26 Jan 2015:
Oil Spills Can Lead to Toxic
Arsenic Water Contamination, Study Says
When petroleum breaks down in underground aquifers, toxic arsenic — up to 23 times the current drinking water
Water sampling at the Minnesota oil-spill test site.
standard — can be released into groundwater, according to
a study by U.S. Geological Survey and Virginia Tech researchers, who analyzed samples collected over 32 years from a petroleum-spill research site in Minnesota. Arsenic, a toxin and carcinogen linked to numerous forms of cancer, is naturally present in most soils and sediments, but is not typically a health concern because its chemical properties keep it bound within soil and minerals. However, certain chemical reactions associated with petroleum contamination and microbial activity in low-oxygen environments, such as in aquifers, change the chemical state of the arsenic so that it can enter the groundwater, researchers say.
16 Jan 2015:
Solar a Better Investment Than
Stocks in Most Large U.S. Cities, Study Says
For homeowners in 46 of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., investing in a residential solar power system would yield better returns than putting money in the
stock market, according to an analysis
by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center at North Carolina State University. For 21 million owners of single-family homes in the U.S., solar energy already costs less than current local utility rates, the report says, as long as the system can be purchased with low-cost financing of 5 percent interest over 25 years. Residents of New York City, Boston, and Albuquerque would likely see the largest benefits from investing in residential solar, the report says. The findings assume
, however, that government incentives encouraging solar investments — such as tax exemptions and policies allowing homeowners to sell excess solar power to utility companies — will continue, which is highly dependent on federal, state, and local politics.
14 Jan 2015:
Offshore Wind More Profitable
Than Drilling on U.S. East Coast, Report Says
Offshore wind would produce twice the number of jobs and twice the amount of energy as offshore drilling
Offshore wind turbines in the Irish Sea
near the U.S. East Coast
, according to
a new report from the advocacy group Oceana. The report contends that recent claims by the oil and gas industry about the economic potential of offshore drilling in the region are exaggerated because many of those oil and gas reserves are not economically viable to drill. Plans to build the nation's first offshore wind farm off Cape Cod have repeatedly failed to move forward
. But Oceana calculates that over the course of 20 years, offshore wind in the Atlantic could produce nearly twice as much energy as all of the economically recoverable oil and gas. Offshore wind installations also would likely create an additional 91,000 jobs — twice as many as offshore drilling would create, Oceana says.
13 Jan 2015:
California Still in Widespread
Drought, Despite Heavy Precipitation
The heavy rains and snow that fell across much of California in the first half of December did little to recharge the state's
California precipitation deficits
dry reservoirs or ease long-term drought conditions, an analysis
by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirms. By the middle of December, 98 percent of the state remained under drought conditions, which is the same portion as before the storms, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Dry conditions over the last three years have left the Sierra Nevada mountain range with a 30- to 50-inch precipitation deficit, NOAA reports, and the agriculture-heavy San Joaquin Valley has fared even worse. To bring the state's four-year precipitation total out of the bottom 20 percent historically — a benchmark used to declare drought conditions — every part of the state would need to exceed its average rainfall between now and September.
08 Jan 2015:
Land Disturbances Darken Snow
And Increase Melt Rate, Researchers Say
Land disturbances, such as agricultural practices and development, may have a big impact on snow purity and
Sampling snowpack in Montana
melt rates, according to
a large-scale survey of impurities in North American snow by researchers at the University of Washington. The researchers were particularly interested in the Bakken oil fields of northwest North Dakota. Before undertaking the study, they predicted that diesel emissions and air pollution associated with oil exploration would darken the snowpack, decreasing the amount of sunlight it reflects and increasing its melt rate. They found, however, that while these activities do add soot to the snow, the dirt they stir up adds an equal amount of impurities to the snowpack. Disturbances from clearing oil pads, new housing sites, agricultural activities, and extra truck traffic on unpaved roads add a significant amount of dirt to snowfields, they found.
07 Jan 2015:
Federal Judge Halts Hunting
And Trapping of Great Lakes Gray Wolves
A federal judge has stopped
the hunting and trapping of gray wolves in the Upper Midwest,
following their removal from the U.S. Endangered Species List in 2012 by the Obama administration. In the ruling, which affects gray wolf populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan — the so-called Great Lakes wolf population — the judge called the delisting of the wolves “arbitrary and capricious” and said it violated the Endangered Species Act
. The order came roughly three years after federal protections for the wolves were dropped by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Since then, the states have each held hunting seasons, resulting in 923 gray wolves killed in Minnesota, 654 in Wisconsin, and 22 in Michigan for a total of 1,599 killed. Researchers estimate that roughly 3,700 gray wolves live in the Great Lakes region.
05 Jan 2015:
U.S. Cities Are Significantly
Brighter than German Cities, Scientists Say
German cities emit several times less light per capita than similarly sized American cities, according to new research
published in the journal Remote Sensing
Berlin, Germany, at night
Moreover, the differences in light emission become more dramatic as city size increases: Light per capita increases with city size in the U.S. but decreases in Germany. Factors such as the type of lamps used and architectural elements like the width of the streets and the amount of trees are likely behind the differences, the researchers say. Energy-efficient LED street lighting
is currently being installed in many cities worldwide, and the researchers expect this to change the nighttime environment in many ways — for example, by reducing the amount of light that shines upward. The study also found that, in major cities in developing countries, the brightest light sources were typically airports or harbors, whereas the brightest areas in large European cities are often stadiums and city centers.
02 Jan 2015:
Historical Photos Help
Document Changes in Greenland Glaciers
Historical photographs from the early and mid-1900s have helped researchers from Denmark map the retreat
Photo of a Greenland glacier from 1935
of Greenland's glaciers, according to
findings presented recently at the American Geophysical Union meeting. This glacier near the Sukkertoppen ice cap in southwest Greenland, for example, retreated roughly two miles between 1935 and 2013, as shown in photographs from the Danish Geodata Agency and the Natural History Museum of Denmark. Older photographs, from 1900 to 1930, show even more remarkable changes. During that time, following the end of the Little Ice Age in the late-19th century, glaciers retreated more rapidly than they have been in recent years, the researchers say. They believe the findings will shed light on how quickly these glaciers might react to future temperature changes.
A Green Dilemma for the Holidays:
Better to Shop Online or In-Store?
Various studies in recent years have suggested that online shopping typically packs a lower carbon punch than shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. But new research suggests the story is more complicated than that. The key, according to a report in the Journal of Cleaner Production
, is to minimize the number of miles driven per item — whether by the shopper, a local delivery van, or a FedEx truck.
19 Dec 2014:
'Nuisance Flooding' Will Affect
Most of U.S. Coastline by 2050, Report Finds
By 2050, most U.S. coastal areas are likely to be threatened by 30 or more days of flooding each year due sea level
Nuisance flooding projections for U.S. cities
rise, according to
a new report the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The researchers looked at the frequency of so-called "nuisance flooding," which occurs when the water level reaches one to two feet above local high tide, and found that several cities along the East Coast are already seeing more than 30 days of nuisance flooding each year. Additional major cities — including Baltimore, Atlantic City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco — will reach or exceed that benchmark by 2030, the report says. Although nuisance flooding is not typically catastrophic or dangerous, it is often costly. The report drives home the point, researchers say, that such floods will become commonplace far earlier than 2100, which is generally cited as the date when sea level rise is likely to become damaging.
17 Dec 2014:
Obama Protects Alaska's
Bristol Bay From Oil and Gas Development
President Obama yesterday announced protections for Bristol Bay, Alaska
A grizzly bear catches a salmon in Bristol Bay.
of the most productive fishing grounds in the nation, from future oil and gas development. The president's action is expected to benefit commercial fishermen and Native Alaskans and boost conservation efforts in the region, which is roughly the size of Florida. Noting that Bristol Bay is the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery and the source of 40 percent of U.S. wild-caught seafood — a catch worth $2 billion annually — Obama vowed to ensure long-term safeguards for the bay. The region has been under protection intermittently since 1989, when the Exxon Valdez spill prompted a federal moratorium on offshore drilling. "It is a natural wonder, and it’s something that’s just too precious to be putting out to the highest bidder," Obama said in a video message
. The federal government is still considering whether to allow development of what would be North America's largest open-pit mine
in the bay's watershed.
16 Dec 2014:
Falling Gasoline Prices Have
Little Effect on Car Travel, Analysis Shows
Although the average retail price of gasoline in the U.S. has fallen 28 percent from its peak in June 2014,
Gas prices vs. miles driven
the decline may not have much effect on automobile travel and gasoline consumption, according to an analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration
(E.I.A.). Typically, an increase in the price of a product leads to lower demand, and vice versa — a concept known as price elasticity. Air travel, for example, tends to be highly elastic: A 10-percent increase in the price of air fares leads to an even greater decrease in air travel. Automobile travel tends to be much less elastic, however. According to E.I.A. data, it takes a 25- to 50-percent decrease in the price of gasoline to increase automobile travel by just 1 percent. One reason for this is that the distance people drive to work and for daily errands is relatively fixed, analysts say. Increased vehicle fuel economy also balances out increases in miles traveled, leading to more stability in gasoline consumption.
12 Dec 2014:
Majority of Americans Support
Climate Actions and Negotiations, Poll Says
Most Americans want the United States to be a world leader in combating global warming and to be participating in international climate negotiations, according to
a poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Sixty-one percent of Americans think the U.S. should lead other nations on climate change, even if it means taking action when other countries do not. A majority of both Democrats and Republicans support some specific policies intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., the poll found, such as funding research for clean energy and regulating CO2 emissions. Less than 20 percent of people polled think such protections would harm the economy long-term, while 60 percent say they would improve economic growth and provide jobs.
05 Dec 2014:
U.S. Natural Gas Fracking Boom
May Be Shorter Than Predicted, Study Says
Estimates of the amount of natural gas that can be extracted from U.S. reserves is much too high and the boom may last just half as long as predicted, says a new report
in the journal Nature
. Official government estimates by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) suggest that peak natural gas production, driven by the rapid growth of hydraulic fracturing, will likely last until 2040 before tapering off. The new analysis suggests that that estimate is too high. Instead, researchers say, the peak will likely come in 2020, and after that production will fall off dramatically. The findings are based on higher-resolution, finer-scale estimates of oil and gas reserves — in units of a single square mile — compared to the EIA's method, which lumps together all land within a single county. The EIA's method also fails to account for the realities of economics, the reseachers say: Fracking companies tend to look for "sweet spots," which they quickly abandon as soon as the reserves become depleted and extraction costs rise.
01 Dec 2014:
Politics, Not Extreme Weather,
Shape Climate Perceptions, Study Finds
Climate extremes such as droughts and record temperatures are failing to change people’s minds about global warming, according to a recent study
led by Michigan State University sociologists. Instead, political orientation is the most influential factor in shaping perceptions about climate change, both in the short-term and long-term, the researchers found. Some previous studies suggested temperature patterns do influence perceptions about global warming, but none measured climatic conditions as comprehensively as the current research. The study analyzed 50 years of regional climate data and climatic storm-severity measures used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from all 50 states, along with 11 years of public opinion data from Gallup polls on climate change perceptions. Although advocates of climate change reduction efforts hope that experience with a changing climate will eventually convince the public of the reality and seriousness of the problem, the current findings do not bode well for that scenario, the researchers say.
21 Nov 2014:
U.S. Can Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions 80 Percent by 2050, Study Says
The United States can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, using existing or near-commercial technologies, according to researchers with the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project
. The study analyzed scenarios with four types of decarbonized electricity: renewable energy, nuclear energy, fossil fuel with carbon capture and storage, and a mixed case. The scenarios achieved reductions of 83 percent below 2005 levels and 80 percent below 1990 levels, according to the study, which was released ahead of next month’s climate talks in Lima, Peru, and negotiations in Paris in December 2015. The energy efficiency of buildings, transportation, and industry would need to increase through the use of smart materials and energy-efficient designs, and vehicles will need to be fueled with electricity generated from wind, solar, or nuclear, as opposed to coal, the researchers said. They project the net costs would be on the order of 1 percent of gross domestic product per year. The 80-percent reduction by 2050 is a long-standing goal of the Obama administration, in line with global commitments to limit warming to less than 2 degrees C.
20 Nov 2014:
Real-Time Ocean Acidification
Data Now Available for U.S. Pacific Coast
Researchers, coastal managers, and shellfish farmers along the U.S. Pacific coast can now get real-time ocean
Web portal for ocean acidification data
acidification data through an online tool
developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The data — which includes measurements of pH, carbon dioxide concentrations, salinity, and water temperatures at various sites — should help organizations and businesses make decisions about managing coastal resources and craft adaptation strategies, NOAA researchers say. The tool will feature data from five shellfish hatchery sites along the Pacific coast along with readings from NOAA’s ocean acidification monitoring sites. Ocean acidification is driven primarily by absorption of atmospheric CO2 by ocean waters, which changes seawater chemistry in a way that makes it difficult for many marine organisms to form their shells.
28 Oct 2014:
Scientists Find Seafloor Fallout Plume of Oil from Deepwater Horizon Spill
Researchers say they have found a large fallout plume of oil on the seafloor from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon
Deepwater Horizon oil at the surface of the ocean
disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. According to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
, a portion of the 2 million barrels of oil thought to be trapped in the deep sea after the spill appears to have settled across a 1,250-square-mile patch of the seafloor centered around the Macondo Well, which discharged an estimated 5 million barrels of oil in the nearly three months between its blowout in April and eventual capping in July. The oil is concentrated in the top half-inch of the seafloor, and mostly distributed in patchy deposits to the southwest of the well, the study found. These deposits account for between 4 and 31 percent of the Macondo oil sequestered in the deep ocean, researchers estimate. The rest has likely been deposited outside this area, they say, but has evaded detection so far because of its patchiness.
24 Oct 2014:
New Mapping Tool Shows U.S. Geothermal Plants and Heat Potential
A new mapping tool from the U.S. Department of Energy
lets users see how geothermal power plants
Geothermal power plants and heat flow potential
across the country are taking advantage of the heat stored within the earth’s crust. Most of the nation’s 154 operational and planned geothermal plants are clustered in western states, where geothermal heat potential is especially high (red areas). Notably, the map identifies two areas that appear ripe for new geothermal development: one in the Great Plains and another at the border of Virginia and West Virginia. The bulk of the facilities are conventional geothermal plants, which generate power using fluid found naturally deep below earth's surface. Steam captured at the surface spins a turbine, which then powers an electric generator. A newer type of technology, called enhanced geothermal, forces cold water from the surface down into the hot crust. Both types are generally considered clean sources of energy.
In East Coast Marshes, Goats
Take On a Notorious Invader
Land managers in the eastern U.S. and Canada have spent countless man-hours and millions of dollars trying to tame a pernicious, invasive reed known as Phragmites australis
. Toxic herbicides, controlled burns, and even bulldozers have been the go-to solutions to the problem. But recent research out of Duke University suggests another, less aggressive fix: goats. The approach is finding practical applications, including in New York City, where officials deployed a herd of goats at Staten Island’s Freshkills Park.
17 Oct 2014:
Pesticide Linked to Bee Deaths
Does Not Improve Soybean Crops, EPA Finds
Coating soybean seeds with a class of insecticides that has been implicated in honeybee deaths
Soybeans (left) and corn coated with pesticides
banned in the European Union does not increase soybean yields compared to using no pesticides at all, according to
an extensive review by the the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Seed treatment provides at most $6 in benefits per acre (an increase in revenue of less than 2 percent), and most likely no financial benefit at all, the EPA analysis
concluded. The insecticides, known as neonicotinoids, are only effective for the first few weeks after planting, studies have found, when soybean pests are not typically active. Neonicotinoid seed treatments could theoretically help fend off sporadic and unpredictable pests, the report notes, but that benefit would be small and unlikely to be noticed outside of the southern U.S.
10 Oct 2014:
Natural Gas Production Causing
Large Methane Hotspot Over U.S. Southwest
A single methane “hotspot” in the U.S. Southwest accounts for 10 percent of the nation’s total estimated
Coalbed natural gas field in northwest New Mexico
methane emissions, according to an analysis
by researchers at the University of Michigan and Caltech. The area is centered in New Mexico's San Juan Basin near the shared borders of Colorado, Utah, and Arizona — the site of the largest and most active coalbed natural gas production operation in the U.S. Natural gas from the basin is more than 95 percent methane, a significantly more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide. Satellite measurements collected over seven years showed natural gas production operations in the area released roughly 650,000 tons of methane to the atmosphere each year. The methane emissions are not associated with hydraulic fracturing operations in the region, which began after the measurements were collected.
08 Oct 2014:
Floods Will Be Chronic Problem
For East Coast Cities by 2030, Study Says
By 2030, residents of Washington, D.C., and Annapolis, Maryland, could be experiencing more than 150 tidal floods every year — up
from an average of just 50 today — according to a recent study of sea level rise and coastal flood risk along the U.S. East Coast by the Union of Concerned Scientists
. In another 15 years, that number could jump to 400 floods annually, the study says. A home purchased in some of the more flood-prone parts of those two cities could see daily flooding before a 30-year mortgage was paid off, according to the study. The increased frequency will be driven by sea level rise, researchers say, which exacerbates the effects of so-called “nuisance flooding” linked to tidal cycles, rainfall, and storm surges. Other cities on the Atlantic coast will also see increased flood frequency, including Miami and Atlantic City, New Jersey, which can expect an average of 240 flood days per year by 2045.
07 Oct 2014:
Deep Oceans Not Warming As Previously Thought, Study Finds
The deepest reaches of earth's oceans have not warmed significantly over the last decade, according to scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California
— a finding that undermines a leading theory as to why the pace of global warming has slowed over the last 15 years. Scientists have speculated that the recent slowdown in rising surface air temperatures was a result of heat accumulating in the deep ocean. But in a paper
published in the journal Nature Climate Change
, the NASA researchers concluded that the vast majority of sea level rise since 2005 was attributable to just two sources: upper ocean heat expansion and glacial melting. From this they inferred that the deep ocean was not also warming. In a separate paper
published in the same journal, however, scientists from the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory noted that the upper ocean was absorbing between 24 and 58 percent more heat than was previously thought. That's not enough to account for the pause in surface air warming, but the researchers suggest
it is evidence that more accurate data on ocean warming is needed.
02 Oct 2014:
Large Sediment Plumes Flowing
From Greenland Glaciers, Images Show
Plumes of sediment-laden meltwater from southwest Greenland’s glaciers are easily recognizable in this
NASA satellite image
Sediment plumes off the coast of Greenland
captured in early September. Meltwater at the top of the ice sheet starts out relatively clean, but as it flows through glacial channels down to the ground and out into the ocean, it picks up large amounts of sediment — a byproduct of the glacier scraping the bedrock. As a result, plumes like the ones that appear light-blue in this photograph, are good markers for estimating the amount of meltwater leaving the ice sheet, researchers say. Melting from the Greenland Ice Sheet could result in global sea level rise of 2 to 8 inches, according to the most recent assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
01 Oct 2014:
Scientists Photograph Gathering
Of 35,000 Walruses on Alaskan Beach
In one of the largest gatherings of walruses documented in recent years, Alaska biologists photographed a
congress of roughly 35,000 animals resting on a beach
in northwestern Alaska. They swam to shore to rest, a walrus researcher explained, after the last remaining traces of sea ice melted in mid-September. Walruses typically rely on sea ice to provide a platform for resting and caring for their young as they swim to find clams, worms, and shrimp offshore, near the edge of the continental shelf. When no sea ice is available, as has been the case in the Chukchi Sea six of the last eight years, the walruses must make their way to shore. Besides taking them farther from their feeding grounds, the beach gatherings are dangerous for young walruses because they can be trampled, biologists say. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering granting Endangered Species Act protections to Pacific walruses.
Cashes Ledge: New England's
Rich Underwater Laboratory
A little over 70 miles off the coast of New England, an unusual undersea mountain range, known as Cashes Ledge, rises from the seabed. Regulators are contemplating lifting a 12-year-old ban on commercial groundfishing in some parts of this area, sparking a roiling debate. What's not in question, however, is that the highest peak in the range, Ammen Rock, teems with kelp forests, sea sponges, and a wide variety of fish and mollusks — much of it captured by ocean photographer Brian Skerry during dives made earlier this year.
View the gallery.
The Overview: Alberta Tar Sands
These satellite images, taken from July 1984 through May 2011, reveal the development of the Athabasca oil sands, commonly called "tar sands," which lie at the heart of Alberta’s oil deposits. Tar sands mining, which has become a significant issue for environmentalists, has been rapid and extensive, growing to cover nearly 260 square miles of the Canadian province by 2011. Nearly 2 million barrels of oil are produced every day, according to the Alberta government, with production expected to grow to nearly 4 million barrels per day over the next decade.
View the images.
15 Sep 2014:
Urban Air Pollution May
Affect Brains of Young Children, Study Says
Children living in areas with high air pollution are at increased risk for brain inflammation and for developing
Smog over Mexico City
neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, according to
a study by researchers at the University of Montana. The scientists compared brain and spinal fluids of children living in low-pollution areas to those of children living in Mexico City, an area notorious for its poor air quality. They found that children living in the city had significantly increased levels of combustion-related metals in their systems, as well as higher levels of antibodies related to inflammation. The antibodies are an indicator of autoimmune response and are possibly tied to higher risks for neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, according to the researchers. They say that a study following the Mexico City children as they age is needed to determine whether there is a relationship between their autoimmune responses and documented brain and cognition changes.
10 Sep 2014:
U.S. Renewable Energy Growth
In 2014 Dwarfs Fossil Fuel Plant Additions
The U.S. this year has significantly scaled back coal and natural gas power plant additions compared to 2013,
and solar and wind power capacity is far outpacing the 2013 installation rate, according to
the U.S. Energy Information Administration. No utility-scale coal plants were added in the first six months of 2014, whereas more than 1,500 megawatts of coal-fired power capacity had been added during the same period last year. Natural gas additions were cut roughly in half compared to the first half of 2013, while wind additions more than doubled and solar power increased by 70 percent. The only coal plants scheduled to come online in 2014 are the Kemper plant in Mississippi, which will capture its own carbon emissions
, and a small conventional steam coal plant in North Dakota, reflecting the challenging market for coal due to impending federal environmental regulations
and competition from natural gas.