22 May 2015:
Many Trees in Southeast U.S.
Closely Related to Tree Species in Asia
DNA studies show that more than half the trees and shrubs in southern Appalachia can trace their ancestry to eastern Asia.
A flowering dogwood tree
Based on molecular studies of more than 250 species of trees and shrubs from Georgia to Virginia, researchers at Duke University found close ties between East Asian species, such as dogwoods, and species in the southeastern U.S. Forests throughout the northern hemisphere were joined together by the supercontinent Laurasia as recently as 180 million years ago. Then, as the great northern land mass broke into continents, eras of glaciation wiped out various tree species. Forest remnants hung on in China, Japan, small parts of Europe, and Appalachia, which explains the similarity in tree species. The research was published in the American Journal of Botany.
Interview: A Grassroots Effort to
Save Africa’s Most Endangered Ape
The Cross River gorilla population, with fewer than 300 individuals, has been pushed to the brink of extinction in equatorial
Africa. At the center of the fight to save this beleaguered ape population is Nigerian scientist Inaoyom Imong, who comes from the region and knows its forests — and its people — intimately. In a Yale e360
interview, Imong describes the various pressures that have reduced populations of this gorilla subspecies and explains how a few thousand people living in rural Nigeria and Cameroon hold the key to saving this magnificent ape.
Read the interview.
20 May 2015:
Many Wind Turbines Installed
In Critical Bird Habitat, Group Says
More than 30,000 wind turbines in the U.S. have been installed in areas critical to the survival of federally protected birds and
an additional 50,000 turbines are planned for similar areas, according to
the advocacy group American Bird Conservancy (ABC). Those figures include 24,000 turbines in the migration corridor of the rare whooping crane and nearly 3,000 turbines in breeding strongholds for greater sage grouse
, a species that has already declined by up to 80 percent in recent decades due to habitat loss, ABC says. The group is asking the federal government to regulate the wind industry with regard to its impacts on birds. Areas of "critical importance," where federally protected birds face the highest levels of risk, comprise just 9 percent of the land area of the U.S. and should be avoided in wind development, ABC says.
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
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.
18 May 2015:
Low Snowpack Raising Drought
Concerns in Oregon and Washington
While drought conditions in California and the southwestern U.S. have been dominating news headlines, Oregon and
Washington could also soon be facing dangerously dry conditions due to low snowpack
levels, as these photos show. Although the region has seen several months with average or just-below average precipitation, unusually warm temperatures on land and offshore led to most of that moisture arriving in the form of rain rather than snow. Like many parts of the western U.S. and Canada, the Pacific Northwest depends on mountain snowpack to melt and fill streams and rivers through warmer, drier summer months. According to state officials, snowpack in Washington was just 16 percent of normal as of May 15, and yearly runoff is predicted to be at its lowest in 64 years. Average snowpack in Oregon stood at just 11 percent of normal, its lowest level since 1992.
15 May 2015:
Indonesia Extends Major Logging
Moratorium, Which Critics Decry as Weak
Indonesia has extended a major logging moratorium
aimed at preserving the archipelago's vast swathes
Deforestation for a palm oil plantation in Indonesia.
of tropical rainforest, but environmentalists say the logging ban does not go nearly far enough. The country, home to some of the world's most biodiverse rain forests and endangered species such as tigers and elephants, first enacted the moratorium in 2011, banning new logging permits for primary and virgin forests and peatlands. The moratorium was first extended until 2015, and now has been extended again, to 2017. Environmental groups have criticized the moratorium, however, saying that it still allows deforestation for ventures deemed in the national interest, such as infrastructure projects and agricultural plantations. Indonesia is the largest economy in Southeast Asia and third-largest carbon emitter in the world. Huge swathes of its forests have been chopped down by palm oil, mining, and timber companies.
14 May 2015:
Biologically Inspired Coating
Will Improve Solar Panels, Researchers Say
Key characteristics of moths’ eyes, which are anti-reflective, and lotus leaves, which are water-repellant, inspired a new type of glass coating that could significantly improve the efficiency of solar panels, say researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory
. The extremely durable coating can be customized to be fog-resistant, anti-reflective, and superhydrophobic — meaning it repels water drops so efficiently that they barely make contact with the solar panel surface, literally bouncing off and carrying away dirt and dust that hamper performance. The key component is a nanostructured layer of glass film that, under a microscope, has a porous texture resembling coral, which helps the solar cells absorb more light, the researchers say. Reflecting less sunlight means a 3 to 6 percent increase in light-to-electricity conversion efficiency and power output, studies show. The coating can be fabricated using standard industry techniques, the researchers say, making it easy and inexpensive to scale up and incorporate in current products.
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
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.
13 May 2015:
Car Travel Is Six Times
More Expensive Than Bicycling, Study Finds
Traveling by car costs society and individuals six times more than traveling by bicycle, according to a study
Bicycles parked in downtown Copenhagen
transportation trends in Copenhagen, one of the planet's most heavily bicycled cities. The analysis considered how much cars cost society and how they compare to bicycles in terms of air pollution, climate change, noise, road wear, public health, and congestion in Copenhagen. If the costs to society and the costs to private individuals are added together, the study found, the economic impact of a car is 0.50 euros per kilometer, whereas the cost of a bicycle is 0.08 euros per kilometer. Looking only at costs and benefits to society, one kilometer by car costs 0.15 euros, whereas society earns
0.16 euros on every kilometer cycled because of improvements in the public's health.
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
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.
11 May 2015:
Research Charts Increase
In Algal Blooms in the Chesapeake Bay
Algal blooms in the Chesapeake Bay became increasingly frequent from 1991 to 2008, according to new research
An algal bloom in the Chesapeake Bay in 2007
the University of Maryland. Driven by runoff containing excess nitrogen and other nutrients, algal blooms can severely deplete oxygen levels and release significant amounts of toxins in the water, killing fish and altering food webs. Harmful algal blooms have long been plaguing the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, but water quality data from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources show that the events roughly doubled in the 1991-2008 period. Major blooms of one type of microscopic algae, Kalrodinium veneficum
, increased from fewer than five per year in 2003 to more than 30 per year in 2008. That type of bloom produces a toxin implicated in fish kills in the Chesapeake Bay and with oyster spawning and development problems.
08 May 2015:
Idle Electronics and Appliances
Waste $19 Billion Annually, Study Says
Roughly $19 billion worth of electricity — an amount equal to the output of 50 large power plants — is devoured annually in
the U.S. by household electronics and appliances when their owners are not actively using them, according to a study
by the Natural Resources Defense Council. These always-on but inactive devices account for nearly 23 percent of home electricity use in California, the researchers found after analyzing data from 70,000 residential smart meters. The cost of this so-called "vampire" energy drain, which provides little benefit to consumers, averages $165 per household per year, but it can be as high as $440 in areas with high electricity prices, the study says. Appliances that consume a lot of power when in use, such as heating and cooling systems and refrigerators, accounted for just 15 percent of the vampire consumption. The majority — 51 percent — is drawn by consumer electronics such as televisions, computers, printers, and game consoles.
07 May 2015:
Ethanol Refineries May Emit More
Smog-Forming Compounds Than Expected
Refineries that produce ethanol fuel may be releasing much larger amounts of smog-forming compounds than researchers and government agencies had suspected, according to a new study
in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.
Airborne measurements downwind from an ethanol refinery in Illinois show that, compared to government estimates, ethanol emissions are 30 times higher and emissions of all volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which include ethanol, are five times higher. Producing one kilogram of the fuel at the Illinois refinery emits 170 times more ethanol than what comes out of a vehicle burning the same amount, the study says. Along with nitrogen oxides, VOCs can react with sunlight to form ground-level ozone, the main component of smog. Renewable fuel standards mandate that gasoline burned in the U.S. contains 10 percent ethanol — an attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum imports while boosting the renewable fuels sector.
06 May 2015:
Backyard Bird Feeders May Put
Native Species at a Disadvantage, Study Says
Backyard bird feeders tend to attract aggressive, introduced bird species while discouraging native species that eat
A sparrow eats at a backyard bird feeder.
insects and nectar, essentially restructuring urban bird communities and skewing them toward non-native species, a new study
says. Data based on nearly 600 surveys of 18,000 birds from 33 species in New Zealand show that yards with bird feeders tended to attract non-native omnivores such as house sparrows, spotted doves, and blackbirds. Outdoor areas without bird feeders had significantly more native bird species such as the grey warbler, whose diet consists mainly of insects. Although the population trends reversed when feeders were removed, the researchers say that over time bird feeders in urban areas likely give non-native bird species a competitive and reproductive edge over native species.
05 May 2015:
Pollen May Play Surprising
Role in Climate and Cloud Formation
Grains of pollen may be seeding clouds and affecting the planet's climate in unexpected ways, University of Michigan researchers
Grains of pollen can break into even smaller particles.
write in the journal Geophysical Research Letters
. Scientists had assumed that pollen particles were too large to remain in the atmosphere long enough to interact with the sun's radiation or trigger cloud formation. The study found, however, that pollen grains are capable of disintegrating into much smaller particles and that exposure to humidity can accelerate pollen's breakdown. Using a cloud-making laboratory chamber, the researchers showed that six common types of pollen — ragweed and oak, pecan, birch, cedar, and pine trees — could break into particles small enough to draw moisture and form clouds. "What happens in clouds is one of the big uncertainties in climate models right now," author Allison Steiner said.
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
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.
01 May 2015:
One in Six Species Facing
Extinction in Current Climate Trajectory
Future increases in global temperatures will threaten up to one in six species if current climate policies are not modified,
Nursery frogs are among the species most at risk.
according to new research
published in the journal Science
. Global extinction rates are currently at 2.8 percent, the study notes. If global average temperature rises by only 2 degrees C — a benchmark that many scientists think is no longer attainable — the extinction rate will rise to 5.2 percent, the study found. If the planet warms by 3 degrees C, the extinction risk rises to 8.5 percent. And if the current, business-as-usual trajectory continues, climate change will threaten one in six species, or 16 percent, the study says. The risk of species loss is most acute for areas that have unique climate ranges — particularly South America, Australia, and New Zealand — yet those regions are the least studied, the author notes.
30 Apr 2015:
Volcanic Eruption in Chile Could
Have an Effect on Climate, NASA Data Show
Calbuco volcano, which erupted in southern Chile last week for the first time since 1972, has been injecting climate-changing
Sulfur dioxide from Calbuco volcano
gases directly into an upper layer of the atmosphere, NASA satellite data
show. The particularly explosive eruption shot sulfur dioxide, an acrid-smelling gas that can cause respiratory problems at ground level, up into the stratosphere, where it reacts with water vapor to create sulfate aerosols that reflect sunlight and can sometimes have a slight cooling effect. So far, Calbuco has released an estimated 0.3 to 0.4 million tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) as high as 13 miles, where it will last much longer and travel much farther than if released closer to the earth's surface. The SO2 will gradually convert to sulfate aerosol particles, but it is not clear yet whether there will be a cooling effect associated with Calbuco's eruption, researchers say.
Interview: How British Columbia
Gained by Putting Price on Carbon
Earlier this month, Ontario announced it will join the carbon cap-and trade-program that Quebec and California participate in.
British Columbia, in 2008, became the first jurisdiction in North America to adopt an economy-wide carbon tax. Stewart Elgie, a professor of law and economics at University of Ottawa, has analyzed the results of that tax and describes them as “remarkable.” In a Yale Environment 360
interview, Elgie says the tax has significantly reduced British Columbia’s fossil fuel use without harming its economy. Citing the lack of support for a carbon tax at the federal level in Canada as well as in the U.S., Elgie warns that “we’re moving toward a global economy that will reward low-carbon, innovative, resource-efficient production. And if we don’t prepare ourselves for that, other countries are going to eat our lunch.”
Read the interview.
29 Apr 2015:
California Governor Orders
Tough New Greenhouse Gas Emissions Target
California will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent compared to 1990 levels over the next 15 years, according to an
California Governor Jerry Brown
issued today by Governor Jerry Brown. The state already has an ambitious climate law on the books, requiring emissions cuts of 80 percent from the 1990 benchmark by 2050. Brown says the new order sets a tough interim target that will be important for ensuring the state meets its 2050 goal. The state's 2030 and 2050 emissions goals build on a law enacted under former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger that requires the state to reduce emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. California is on track to meet, and possibly exceed, that mark, officials say. Governor Brown has been positioning California as a world leader in efforts to curb climate change ahead of the United Nations climate talks in Paris at the end of this year.
28 Apr 2015:
World Is Poised for Major
Surge in Air Conditioner Use, Research Finds
The world is on track for dramatic increases in the use of air conditioning over the next few decades, which will place even
Air conditioners in Chinese apartment complex.
more stress on power grids and energy prices than scientists had previously thought, according to
research from the University of California, Berkeley. Looking at households throughout Mexico, the researchers found that, in the warm areas, air conditioning use increases steadily with income — 2.7 percent per $1,000 of annual household income. The team used those findings, along with population, climate, and household income projections, to model future growth in air conditioner use across the globe. Conservatively, they say, the model predicts near-universal saturation of air conditioning in all warm areas within just a few decades. That will place enormous stress on the energy infrastructure of some nations — India, for example, is already experiencing blackouts during surges in power use — and will drive up energy costs worldwide.
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 reefs are threatened by ocean acidification.
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.
24 Apr 2015:
Long-Term CO2 Record by Keeling
Named National Historic Chemical Landmark
The Keeling Curve — a long-term record of rising carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere — will be named a National Historic
Chemical Landmark, the American Chemical Society announced
yesterday. The late geochemist Charles David Keeling began collecting precise, systematic data on atmospheric CO2 concentrations at Hawaii's Mauna Loa Observatory in 1958. Since then, the rigorous and continuous measurements have become the most widely recognized record of humans' impact on the planet, helping to illustrate the link between rising CO2 levels from burning fossil fuels and global warming. Other works highlighted by National Historic Chemical Landmark program include the discovery of penicillin, deciphering of the genetic code, and the works of Rachel Carson, Thomas Edison, and George Washington Carver.
Interview: Oklahoma’s Clear Link
Between Earthquakes and Energy
In recent years, Oklahoma has experienced a stunning increase in the number of earthquakes. Yet despite numerous
studies to the contrary, state officials have remained skeptical of the link between this seismic boom and oil and gas activity. That ended last month with the announcement by the Oklahoma Geological Survey that oil and gas wastewater injection wells were, indeed, the “likely” cause of “the majority” of that state’s earthquakes. Oklahoma geologist Todd Halihan, who has examined this issue, welcomed the announcement. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Halihan outlines some ways that the abnormal seismic activity in Oklahoma might be tamped down. But he also explains why he believes the problem has no quick or easy fixes.
Read the interview.
22 Apr 2015:
Yale Plans to Charge University
Departments for Their Carbon Emissions
Yale University has announced
that it will enact a novel carbon-pricing mechanism in the next academic year in hopes of curbing its greenhouse gas emissions. Devised by a committee led by economist William Nordhaus — an expert on the intersection of climate change and economic policy — the program will operate in a pilot phase for three years before possibly going into full effect, the university said. According to the committee's report, departments within the university would be charged based on how much their carbon emissions deviated from average levels in the past. The report recommends a price of $40 per ton of carbon dioxide, which is based on current federal legislation and the government's estimates for the social cost of carbon. "We didn't see anything like this" when reviewing other institutions' carbon-pricing schemes, Nordhaus told E&E News
, saying he believes Yale's program is the first and most comprehensive of its kind.
21 Apr 2015:
Australia Could Attain
100 Percent Renewables by 2050, Study Says
Australia could reduce its greenhouse emissions significantly and transition to an economy
Windy Hill wind farm in Queensland, Australia.
predominantly fueled by renewable energy for very little cost, according to
an analysis by the Australian National University and WWF. The country could generate 100 percent of its electricity from renewables and have zero net emissions by 2050 because wind and solar technologies have fallen rapidly in price in recent years and Australia is the world's sunniest and windiest continent. Any progress, however, will depend on the government's willingness to set clear, long-term policies and regulations encouraging renewable energy use, the authors note. Under conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Australia's current climate action plan calls for only a five percent cut in emissions from 2000 levels over the next five years.
20 Apr 2015:
Record Amount of E-Waste
Generated Globally in 2014, Report Finds
A record amount of electronic waste was discarded in 2014, with a total of 41.8 million tons of personal electronics and household
2014 saw a record amount of e-waste.
appliances hitting landfills worldwide, a new report
from the United Nations University found. The highest per-capita totals of so-called "e-waste" came from Scandinavian and European countries — Norway topped the list, followed by Switzerland, Iceland, and Denmark — and China and the U.S. were responsible for the largest volumes overall. Nearly 60 percent of e-waste by weight came from electronic components and wiring in large and small kitchen, bathroom, and laundry appliances, and 7 percent was discarded mobile phones, calculators, personal computers, and printers, the report said. It also found that less than one-sixth of all discarded electronics were properly recycled, and an estimated $52 billion in gold, copper, silver, and recoverable materials went to waste.
17 Apr 2015:
New Mapping Tool Could
Lower Cost of Finding Geothermal Energy
A new online mapping tool could help governments and investors evaluate the geothermal energy potential for locations around
the globe through satellite measurements, lowering the risks and costs involved in developing this clean energy source, its creators say. The tool
uses gravity measurements from European Space Agency (ESA) satellites to look for certain characteristics unique to geothermal reservoirs, including areas with thin crusts, subduction zones, and young magmatic activity. This helps determine which locations are most likely to possess geothermal energy potential, narrowing the search — and cost — for prospectors. The project, which is a partnership between the ESA and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), will "help make a strong business case for geothermal development where none existed before,” said a director at IRENA.
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
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."
Interview: For Buddhist Leader,
Religion and Environment Are One
Ogyen Trinley Dorje, spiritual leader of a 900-year-old lineage of Buddhism, says his deep concern for environmental issues
His Holiness the 17th Karmapa
stems from his boyhood living close to the land on the Tibetan plateau. Now, as His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, he is promoting a program that seeks to instill good environmental practices in Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayan region. In an interview with Yale e360
, the Karmapa talks about how ecological awareness fits with the Buddhist concept of interdependence, why the impacts of climate change in the Himalaya are so significant, and what role religion can play in helping meet the world’s environmental challenges. “The environmental emergency that we face is not just a scientific issue, nor is it just a political issue,” he says. “It is also a moral issue.”
Read the interview.