21 Oct 2014:
Desert and Mediterranean Plants
More Resistant to Drought than Expected
Desert and Mediterranean ecosystems may be more resistant to climate change, particularly long-term
Plants in a Mediterranean ecosystem in Chile.
drought, than previously thought, a new study published in Nature Communications
shows. Over the course of a nine-year experiment, researchers subjected plants in four different climatic zones to rainfall conditions predicted under future climate change scenarios. The ecosystems typically received 3.5 to 30.7 inches of precipitation annually, and researchers cut that total by roughly 30-percent to simulate drought conditions. Surprisingly, the researchers found no measurable changes in plant biomass, density, or species composition and richness in any of the four ecosystems over the course of nine generations of plants. The ecosystems already receive highly variable amounts of rainfall and the 30-percent drop likely falls within the plants’ natural "comfort zone," the researchers say, which could explain the unexpected resilience to drought.
20 Oct 2014:
Electricity Access Has Small
Effect on Emissions in India, Study Says
Expanding electricity to the homes of 650 million people in India over the past 30 years had minimal
A third of all households in India lack electricity.
direct impact on the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change
. Although many humanitarian and development organizations have stressed the importance of improving electricity access in low-income countries, it has been unclear how this would impact overall emissions levels. An analysis of trends in India between 1981 and 2011 shows that expanding household electricity access by roughly 45 percent contributed only 3 to 4 percent to the nation's overall growth in carbon dioxide emissions. When the indirect effects of greater electricity access, such as increased wealth and consumerism, are taken into account, household electricity use raised India’s emissions by 11 to 25 percent over that period, the study found.
16 Oct 2014:
Global Boom in Natural Gas
Unlikely to Help the Climate, Study Suggests
Increasing global supplies of unconventional natural gas will not help to reduce the overall upward trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions and the planetary warming that comes with it, according to a new study
published in the journal Nature
. The findings further undercut the notion, long touted by proponents of natural gas, that the fuel — which emits less CO2 than coal when burned — represents an important "bridge" in the transition to low-carbon energy resources. The study, which synthesized models developed by numerous researchers working independently, suggested atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations over the next 35 years would remain virtually unchanged — and in some models, warming would be worsened — by increased natural gas production. This was in part attributed to the fact that the new gas supplies would provide a substitute not only for coal, but also for low-emissions technologies like nuclear power and renewables.
15 Oct 2014:
U.S. Climate Envoy Says All
Nations, Rich and Poor, Must Curb Emissions
The negotiating architecture that has governed the decades-long pursuit of an international climate
Climate Envoy Todd Stern
agreement is outdated, said Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change at the State Department and the nation’s lead climate negotiator. In remarks delivered at Yale University’s Law School on Tuesday, Stern reiterated the U.S. position
that all nations — both rich ones and developing ones — must be brought together under one agreement that includes pledges to cut emissions. "This split between developed and developing countries in the climate convention is the singular fault line in these negotiations," Stern said, "and has been from the beginning." Under the recently expired Kyoto protocol, developing countries like China and India were exempted from committing to emissions cuts. Climate talks are scheduled to resume in Lima, Peru later this year, with a goal of achieving a new and fully global treaty at a meeting in Paris in 2015. That pact, Stern argued, ought to require all nations to submit emissions reduction targets, tailored as needed to national interests and abilities.
14 Oct 2014:
Researchers Explain Puzzling
Stability of Some Himalayan Glaciers
Unlike nearly all other high-altitude glaciers across the globe, glaciers in the Karakoram mountain chain, part
Baltoro Glacier in the Karakoram range
of the Himalayas, are not melting and are even expanding in some areas. This so-called “Karakoram anomaly” has puzzled scientists for years, but now a team of researchers has offered an explanation
: While rain from warm summer monsoons tends to melt mountain glaciers in other parts of the Himalayas and the nearby Tibetan Plateau, the location and height of mountains in the Karakoram chain, which runs along the borders of China, India, and Pakistan, protect the area from this seasonal precipitation. Instead, the mountain chain receives most of its precipitation in the form of winter snowfall, according to findings published in Nature Geoscience
. The study suggests that the Karakoram glaciers are likely to persist until 2100, but not long after, if global warming continues at its current pace.
E360 Video Winner: A Legacy of
“A Red Dirt Town,”
Toxic Pollution in Southern Waters
which placed second in the Yale Environment 360 Video Contest, examines the legacy of pollution in Anniston, Alabama, the former home of a Monsanto chemical factory. The video, produced by Spenser Gabin, tells the story of how PCBs from the Monsanto plant contaminated the town’s waterways and taint the fish that are popular with local anglers.
Watch the video.
13 Oct 2014:
Climate Change To Make Many
Fish Species Extinct in Tropics, Study Says
Climate change is likely to drive fish and marine invertebrates toward the poles and cause extinctions
near the tropics, according to
researchers at the University of British Columbia. Under the conservative climate change scenario of one degree Celsius of warming by 2100, the 802 species modeled in the study
are predicted to move away from their current habitats by as much as 9 miles, or 15 kilometers, every decade — a rate similar to what scientists have observed over the past few decades. Under the worst-case scenario of three degrees of warming, the researchers predict marine species will move toward the poles at a rate of 26 kilometers per decade. Under that scenario, an average of 6.5 species per 0.5 degrees of latitude would become locally extinct closest to the equator. The shifts will be caused by the species' reactions to warming waters, changing ocean chemistry, and ecosystem structure near the tropics, as well as new habitats opening up nearer the poles, researchers say.
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.
Interview: A Call for Climate Goals Other Than Two Degrees Celsius
When international delegates meet in Paris next year to negotiate a new climate agreement, they'll be aiming to keep the global average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees
Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the maximum seen by many for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. But David Victor, a professor of international relations at University of California San Diego, argued in a recent controversial commentary in Nature
that the 2-degree goal is now unattainable and should be replaced by more meaningful goals. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Victor explains why he believes the 2-degree threshold has failed to position policy makers to take serious action on climate change and outlines the "basket of indicators" that he and his co-author are suggesting be used instead. Read the interview.
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.
06 Oct 2014:
Number of Megacities Has
Nearly Tripled Since 1990, UN Report Says
The number of urban areas with more than 10 million inhabitants — sometimes called "megacities" — has
nearly tripled in the last 24 years, jumping from 10 in 1990 to 28 in 2014, according to the latest UN report on world urbanization
. The total number of people living in megacities has grown from 153 million to 453 million during that period, the report says, and such areas now account for 15 percent of global GDP. Although densely populated urban areas can be environmental blights, innovations in efficient transportation have arisen from some major cities in Asia and Lagos, Nigeria, because those cities have invested heavily in public transit infrastructure, researchers say
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.
26 Sep 2014:
Aral Sea Basin Dry for First
Time in Modern History, Images Show
For the first time in modern history, the eastern basin of the South Aral Sea has gone completely dry, as this
NASA satellite image
captured in late August shows. The Aral Sea is an inland body of water lying between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in central Asia. It was once one of the four largest lakes in the world, but it has been shrinking markedly and dividing into smaller lobes since the 1960s, after the government of the former Soviet Union diverted the region's two major rivers to irrigate farmland. One Aral Sea researcher suggested that it has likely been at least 600 years since the eastern basin entirely disappeared. Decreasing precipitation and snowpack in its watershed led to the drying this year, and huge withdrawals for irrigation exacerbated the problem. Water levels are expected to continue to show major year-to-year variations depending on precipitation and snowpack levels, the researcher said.
24 Sep 2014:
Nations Announce Agreement
To End Forest Loss by 2030 at UN Summit
The U.S., Canada, and the European Union agreed at yesterday's UN climate summit to cut global
Deforestation for palm oil in Malaysian Borneo
deforestation in half by the end of the decade and eliminate net forest losses entirely by 2030, marking the first time such a deadline has been set. If the goal is met, it will cut carbon emissions by an amount equal to taking 1 billion vehicles — every car on the planet — off the road, the UN said
. Notably missing from the list of committed countries was Brazil, which has been a key player in Amazon deforestation, because of concerns that the pledge would clash with national laws permitting managed deforestation. Critics say ending deforestation is nearly impossible without Brazil's cooperation. In addition to the 32 national governments that signed onto the declaration, 35 corporations, including Kellogg's, L'Oreal, and Nestle, pledged to support sustainable forest practices in their supply chains.
23 Sep 2014:
Food Security Issues Often
Neglected After Extreme Weather Events
Extreme weather events — the sort likely to arise with increasing frequency as the planet warms — took a heavy toll on Russia and East Africa in 2010 and 2011, in large part because governments and authorities were ill-equipped to address resulting food shortages and other fallout, according to researchers at the University of Oxford. Russia experienced a heat wave that led to food hoarding and price-fixing of staple crops by speculators, according to the report, which was commissioned by Oxfam
. A drought in East Africa in 2010 through 2011 was tied to an uptick in armed conflicts in the region, which interrupted international and domestic aid for six months. Crop prices reached record levels in several markets, including wheat in Ethiopia, maize in Kenya, and red sorghum grain in Somalia, the report notes. Investing in additional health facilities, establishing pre-positioned food supplies, and other tactics aimed at mitigating the effects of future heat waves, droughts, and floods, could help to blunt the effects of climate change on the poorest and most vulnerable populations, the researchers say.
22 Sep 2014:
Planet Set to Reach CO2
Threshold in 30 Years, Researchers Say
Only 1.2 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide can be emitted in the future if nations are to avoid causing the
global mean surface temperature to rise more than 2 degrees C beyond the pre-industrial average, according to
researchers with the Global Carbon Project
. Combined historical and future carbon dioxide emissions must remain below 3.2 trillion metric tons to have a 66-percent chance of keeping that temperature increase below 2 degrees C — the internationally accepted benchmark for restraining global warming. But two-thirds of this allotment has already been emitted, and at the current pace of emissions, the global population will burn through the rest within the next 30 years, the researchers conclude. CO2 emissions rose 2.3 percent in 2013 and are on track to increase by 2.5 percent in 2014, according to the report, which was released ahead of this week's UN climate summit.
19 Sep 2014:
Global Population on Track to
Reach 11 Billion by 2100, Researchers Say
A new analysis of United Nations global population data finds an 80-percent probability that the number of
people in the world, now 7.2 billion, will increase to between 9.6 and 12.3 billion in 2100. Published in the journal Science
, the study counters the widely accepted projection that global population will peak at roughly 9 billion by 2050, then gradually decline. The new study instead finds a 70-percent likelihood that population will grow continuously throughout the century to reach 10.9 billion by 2100. Researchers attribute the higher projections, in part, to increasing fertility rates in sub-Saharan Africa, where population growth had been predicted to continue slowing. The Guardian
notes that many widely cited global policy assessments, such as recommendations from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, assume a population peak by 2050.
18 Sep 2014:
Trees Growing Significantly
Faster in Warming Climate, Study Finds
An analysis of data spanning 140 years from one of the world's oldest forest study sites indicates that trees have
Collecting growth ring samples from study site
been growing significantly faster and stands have become larger since the 1960s. The study, published in Nature Communications
, was based on 600,000 individual tree surveys conducted since 1870 at a central European forest study site. European beech and Norway spruce, the dominant tree species in the experimental plots, grew 77 and 32 percent faster, respectively, than they did 50 years ago, the analysis found. The trends are primarily due to rising temperatures and longer growing seasons, the researchers say, although increasing carbon dioxide and nitrogen levels in the atmosphere could also play a role. The stages of tree development haven't changed, the researchers say; instead, trees are moving through their development trajectory much faster than before. The changes could affect other plants and animals in the forest ecosystem that rely on specific phases of forest development, the study notes.
17 Sep 2014:
Shift to Mass Transit Could
Have Major Economic and Climate Benefits
Expanding public transportation and infrastructure that promotes walking and biking throughout the world's
cities could save $100 trillion and cut transportation-related carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2050, according to
an analysis by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Urban transportation-related emissions could double by 2050 as growth continues in major cities in China, India, and other developing countries. But if China alone were to develop extensive bus rapid transit and commuter transit networks, its predicted transportation-related emissions in 2050 could be cut by 40 percent, the analysis found. The U.S. — currently the world's largest contributor to urban transportation-related emissions — is seeing declines in that sector as population growth slows, vehicle fuel efficiency improves, and people drive less. But those emissions cuts could accelerate sharply if urban mass transit were improved, the report said.
16 Sep 2014:
Tackling Climate Change Could
Pay Off in as Little as 15 Years, Report Finds
Limiting greenhouse gas emissions globally over the next 15 years is both economically feasible and likely to save money, according to a new report
from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate. Between 2015 and 2030, nations are expected to invest roughly $90 trillion in urban land-use and energy infrastructure, the analysis estimated. Steering those investments toward renewable energy, efficiency improvements, and other low-emission technologies would make that global investment more costly, the panel of government and business leaders conceded. But these costs could eventually be offset by the lowered operating costs associated with renewable power, the report suggested. Although they are difficult to quantify, health care savings associated with improved air quality would also offset costs. According to the report, the biggest challenges for governments will be enacting stronger rules and policies that favor low-carbon development, such as cutting the $600 billion currently spent on fossil fuel subsidies.
Interview: Making Farm-to-Table
A Truly Sustainable Movement
Renowned chef Dan Barber is synonymous with the farm-to-table movement. His two New York restaurants
feature organic ingredients grown or raised on nearby farms, including the one that surrounds his Hudson Valley restaurant. So it’s striking that in his new book, The Third Plate
, Barber maintains that the movement he has been championing hasn’t gone far enough. In an interview
with Yale Environment 360
, Barber says if the farm-to-table movement is to truly support sustainability, end the rise of monocultures, and produce delicious food, it’s the table that must support the farm, not the other way around. And that, he says, calls for a new way of cooking and eating. Read the interview | Listen to a podcast
12 Sep 2014:
New High-Resolution Maps Show
Greenhouse Gas Emissions at City-Level
Researchers have developed a new method for mapping global carbon emissions for individual cities on an
hourly basis — a major improvement over previous techniques, which quantified greenhouse emissions less accurately and at coarser scales, according to researchers at Arizona State University
. The maps are derived from worldwide databases of population, power plants, and national fuel use statistics, and they encompass 15 years of data. Among other findings, the analysis revealed increased emissions in China, India, Europe, and the northern U.S. in 2010, after the peak of the global financial crisis. The researchers say this reflects faster recoveries from the crisis in those regions compared to, for example, the southeastern U.S., where emissions lagged in 2010. The results of the analysis match ground-level measurements, confirming the accuracy of the maps, the researchers say.
11 Sep 2014:
Brazilian Amazon Deforestation
Jumps by 29 Percent, Government Says
Brazilian government data show destruction of the Amazon rainforest increased 29 percent
over the past
year. Satellites documented the deforestation of over 2,300 square miles in the Brazilian Amazon, reversing highly praised gains
in forest conservation since 2004. The largest losses were in the states of Para and Mato Grosso, in central Brazil, which are experiencing widespread agricultural development. The building of new roads and dams, along with illegal logging, also contributed to the rise in deforestation. Brazilian police frequently target illegal logging operations, but environmental groups say more enforcement is needed. Deforestation in Brazil peaked in 2004, when over 11,580 square miles of forest were destroyed. Worldwide, deforestation is responsible for roughly 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions — more than all types of transportation systems combined.
09 Sep 2014:
Ocean Acidification May Dull
Sharks' Ability to Smell Prey, Study Finds
Ocean acidification, which is driven by rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, may cause sharks to
Smooth dogfish shark laboratory testing
be less interested in hunting prey, according to
research published in Global Change Biology
. In laboratory experiments emulating CO2 concentrations as they are expected to be by the middle and end of this century, scientists from the U.S. and Australia found that the smooth dogfish shark became uninterested in squid odors — sometimes avoiding them altogether. Sharks in control waters pursued prey scents four times more often than sharks in waters with high CO2 levels, the study found. Rising ocean acidity can disrupt the proper firing of neurons, the scientists say, because it interferes with a specific receptor present in most marine organisms with a nervous system. A study earlier this year found that fish in waters with increased acidity were also less able to detect predator odors.
08 Sep 2014:
U.S. Dietary Guidelines Would
Lead to Rise in Emissions, Study Says
Following U.S. federal guidelines for a healthy diet is likely to increase greenhouse gas emissions, even though the guidelines recommend a diet with less meat than the average American currently consumes, according to a recent analysis in the Journal of Industrial Ecology
. Compared to U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines, American's don't eat enough fruits, vegetables, seafood, and dairy, and they consume too much meat, eggs, nuts, soy, oils, solid fats, and added sugars. If the population were to shift its diet to match USDA guidelines, greenhouse gas emissions would actually rise by 12 percent, researchers found, because calories from meat, eggs, fats, and sugars would largely be replaced by dairy products. Methane emissions
from dairy and beef cattle contribute significantly to atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. The findings highlight a need to consider both environmental and health objectives when making dietary recommendations, the researchers say.
Interview: Calling for Moratorium
On Development of Tar Sands Oil
In a recent commentary in Nature
, aquatic ecologist Wendy Palen and seven colleagues were sharply critical of the way that Canada and the United States have gone
about developing Alberta’s vast tar sands deposits and the infrastructure needed to transport those fossil fuels to market. Rather than looking at the cumulative impact of this massive energy development on the climate and the environment, Palen and her co-authors wrote, major decisions have been made in piecemeal fashion. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Palen talks about why a moratorium on new tar sands developments is needed, how the decision-making process is biased in favor of short-term economic benefits, why the fate of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline is critical, and what can be done to begin factoring in the real costs of exploiting the tar sands.
Read the interview.
03 Sep 2014:
Mobile Phone Networks Can
Help Monitor Global Rainfall, Study Says
New research shows
that mobile phone networks, which cover 90 percent of the world's population, can help track rainfall events — a task that has proven difficult for both advanced satellite systems
and ground-level observation networks. By compiling data on signal disruptions from mobile phone networks in Burkina Faso in West Africa, a team of researchers was able to calculate with 95 percent accuracy both the location and volume of rain that fell, even during short-lived storms, according to a report in Geophysical Research Letters
. Mobile phone companies maintain detailed records on signal disruptions, which can occur when water droplets block and deflect signals between antennae, to determine whether their networks are functioning properly. By tapping into those records, researchers could distill data on rainfall events at extremely fine spatial and temporal scales. As mobile phone networks expand across the globe, such data could be used to create highly accurate rainfall maps, researchers say, although gaining access to records could prove difficult.
02 Sep 2014:
Six Strategies Could End
Global Water Stress by 2050, Scientists Say
Global water stress could be alleviated by the year 2050 if countries work to implement six key strategies
ranging from building more reservoirs to controlling population growth, according to
research from Canada and the Netherlands. Water stress is defined as occurring when more than 40 percent of the water from a region's rivers is unavailable because it is already being used — a situation that currently affects roughly one-third of the global population. Writing in Nature Geoscience
, the scientists propose six steps they believe can help reduce water stress: planting crops that use water and nutrients more efficiently; using more efficient irrigation methods; improving the efficiency of water use in homes, industry, and municipalities; limiting the rate of population growth so global population stays below 8.5 billion by 2050; increasing reservoir water storage capacity; and intensifying water desalination operations