24 Nov 2014:
Record Number of Rhinos Poached In South Africa, Government Says
South African officials have announced that 1,020 rhinos have been killed so far in 2014 — a total that
White rhino in South Africa
surpasses last year’s record slaughter of 1,004 of the endangered animals. Poaching has been on the rise in South Africa, home to the world’s largest population of rhinos, since 2007, when only seven rhinos were killed. The sharp increase is occurring despite steps by the government to improve enforcement and introduce new technologies and intelligence-gathering methods to curb poaching, Mongabay reports
. As of 2010, South Africa was home to more than 18,000 white rhinos — over 90 percent of the global population — and nearly 2,000 black rhinos. The animals are being killed for their horns, which are in high demand in China and Vietnam for their supposed, but unproven, medicinal qualities.
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.
19 Nov 2014:
Global Maritime Shipping
Traffic Has Grown by 300 Percent Since 1992
Maritime traffic has increased four-fold over the past 20 years, causing more water, air, and noise pollution in
Maritime shipping traffic has increased rapidly.
the world's oceans and seas, according to a new study
quantifying global shipping traffic. Traffic went up in every ocean during the 20 years of the study, except off the coast of Somalia, where piracy has almost completely halted commercial shipping since 2006. In the Indian Ocean, where the world’s busiest shipping lanes are located, ship traffic grew by more than 300 percent over the 20-year period, according to the report published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters
. Burgeoning ship traffic has increased the amount air pollution, particularly above the Sri Lanka-Sumatra-China shipping lane, where researchers recorded a 50-percent increase in nitrogen dioxide, a common air pollutant, over the 20-year period. Shipping is also a major source of noise pollution, which can be harmful to marine mammals, the authors note.
18 Nov 2014:
Social Media Can Help Track Severity of Air Pollution, Researchers Say
Social media posts can help researchers estimate air pollution levels with significant accuracy, according to a team of computer scientists from the University of Wisconsin
. The researchers analyzed posts on Weibo — a Twitter-like site that is China's most popular social media outlet — from 108 Chinese cities over 30 days, tracking how often people complained about the air and the words they used to describe air quality. The study showed that the process can provide accurate, real-time information on the air quality index, a widely used measure of common air pollutants. Large Chinese cities sometimes have physical monitoring stations to gauge pollution levels, but smaller cities generally do not because monitors are expensive to install and maintain. The researchers hope these findings will help residents of smaller towns and less affluent areas understand the severity of their local air pollution. Between 350,000 and 500,000 Chinese citizens die prematurely each year because of air pollution, a former Chinese health minister estimated in the journal The Lancet
17 Nov 2014:
Old-Growth Forest in China
Shrinking Despite Protections, Study Says
China’s anti-logging, conservation, and ecotourism policies are actually accelerating the loss of old-growth forests
Deforestation in China's Yunnan Province.
in one of the country's most ecologically diverse regions, according to a study published in the journal Biological Conservation
. Researchers used satellite imagery and statistical analysis to evaluate forest conservation strategies in northwestern Yunnan Province, in southern China. The results show that a logging ban increased total forest cover but accelerated old-growth logging in ancient protected areas known as sacred forests. For centuries, sacred forests have effectively protected old-growth trees from clear-cutting, despite major upheavals in the region’s history. Recent environmental protection policies, however, have shifted management of these areas away from native communities to government agencies — apparently to the forests' detriment, the study shows.
14 Nov 2014:
New Material Can Trap Powerful Greenhouse Gases Efficiently, Chemists Say
Scientists from the U.S. and Taiwan have developed a new type of lightweight, self-assembling molecule that can capture large amounts of potent greenhouse gases,
This porous material traps greenhouse gases.
according to a report
in Nature Communications
. The molecules create a lightweight structure with many microscopic pores that can adsorb gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Those long-lived compounds, once widely used as refrigerants, were phased out because they damage the ozone layer, but they are still used in various industrial processes. The newly developed material is rich in the element fluorine, which helps it bind CFCs and various other hydro- and fluorocarbon gases very efficiently — to the tune of 75 percent by weight, the chemists say. Although they are less prevalent, the greenhouse effect of those gases can be hundreds- or thousands-fold more powerful than carbon dioxide, the researchers note. Heavier, metal-based materials with similar capabilities have been developed in previous studies, but these were sensitive to water and difficult to process and recycle.
13 Nov 2014:
Global Maps Detail Seasonal and Geographic Trends in Ocean Acidification
A team of scientists has published the most comprehensive analysis yet of how acidity levels vary across the world’s oceans. Drawing on four decades of
Ocean acidification map
measurements, researchers from Columbia University and the University of Colorado mapped changes in ocean acidity by season and location, as well as how acidity levels affect the stability of shell-building minerals. The maps
reveal that the northern Indian Ocean is at least 10 percent more acidic than the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, possibly due to its unique geography, the researchers say. The maps also show that ocean acidity fluctuates most in the colder waters off Siberia, Alaska, Antarctica, and the Pacific Northwest, due to cycles of deep-water upwelling and massive plankton blooms. The oceans have taken up a quarter of the carbon dioxide humans have put in the atmosphere over the last two hundred years, and acid levels at the surface have increased by 30 percent since the beginning of the industrial era, researchers say.
Interview: Bringing Civility and Diversity to Conservation Debate
For the past few years, an acrimonious debate has been ranging between two camps of conservationists. One faction
advocates protecting nature for its intrinsic value. The other claims that if the degradation of the natural world is to be halted, nature’s fundamental value — what nature can do for us
— needs to be stressed. The tone of the rhetoric has led to a petition, published this month in the journal Nature
, that criticizes both sides for indulging in ad hominem attacks and unproductive arguments that have devolved into “increasingly vitriolic, personal battles.” In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Jane Lubchenco, former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, explains why she and her co-signatories are calling for a more “inclusive conservation” and why the bickering needs to stop. Read more.
12 Nov 2014:
U.S. and China Announce
Historic Emissions Reduction Pledges
In what could prove to be a momentum-setting piece of diplomacy, the United States and China — which together account for a third of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions — jointly announced
plans to pursue significant cuts in those emissions over the coming 10 to 15 years. Among the details of the joint pledges, unveiled as part of meetings this week between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama in Beijing, were commitments from the U.S. to cut its CO2 emissions by between 26 percent and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. China, meanwhile, pledged to halt emissions growth by 2030, or earlier, and to increase the nation's share of non-fossil energy sources to roughly 20 percent over the same time frame. The inability of the world's two most consequential economies to agree on an approach to emissions reductions has been a key stumbling block in international climate negotiations for nearly two decades, and the announcement was met with cautious optimism by many climate experts, who characterized it as an important first step toward a global treaty.
11 Nov 2014:
New Mapping Tool Highlights
Carbon-Trapping Forests in Peru
A new, high-resolution mapping technique can be used to help identify and prioritize tracts of forest land with the highest
Map of carbon storage potential of land in Peru
carbon-sequestering potential, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. In the study, researchers with the Carnegie Institution for Science applied the technique, which integrated satellite imaging data and advanced, three-dimensional forest mapping information, to the 128 million hectares that comprise the nation of Peru. The analysis considered each landscape's unique climate, topography, geology, and hydrology to produce a map showing a range of landscapes with varying carbon densities — a potentially crucial tool as nations prepare to negotiate global forest protections as part of United Nations climate talks next month Lima, Peru.
10 Nov 2014:
Public Views of Climate Science Hinge on Solutions, New Study Finds
People often evaluate scientific evidence not on the basis of its perceived merits, but on whether they agree with the policy implications of the research, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
. Using issues like climate change and air pollution as test cases, Duke University researchers sought to determine if what they call a "solution aversion" bias could be detected among self-identified Republican or Democratic survey participants. In one example, participants were provided a scientific assertion that global average temperatures could rise as much as 3.2 degrees by the end of the century, after which they were presented with potential policy solutions. If that solution involved government regulation or increased taxes, just 22 percent of Republican participants expressed confidence in the initial scientific finding. But if the solution emphasized using market forces to curb temperatures, the percentage of Republicans accepting the initial temperature predictions rose to 55 percent. Self-identified Democrats displayed no difference in the same experiment, but liberal biases were clearly elicited on other issues, the researchers found.
07 Nov 2014:
Organized Chinese Crime Behind Tanzania's Elephant Slaughter, Report Says
Chinese-led criminal organizations have been conspiring with corrupt Tanzanian officials to traffic huge amounts
Poached elephant skull in Selous Reserve
of ivory — a trade that has caused half of Tanzania’s elephants to be poached in the past five years — according to a report
by the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency. In some cases, Chinese military officials appeared to be complicit in the illegal activities, the report says, and in other instances, prominent Tanzanian businessmen and politicians helped protect ivory traffickers. Tanzania is the largest source of poached ivory in the world, and China is the largest importer of smuggled tusks, according to EIA. Tanzania’s famed Selous Reserve saw its elephant population plunge by 67 percent in four years, from 50,000 animals to 13,000. Tanzania appears to have lost more elephants to poaching during this period than any other country, EIA said.
06 Nov 2014:
Scientists Call For Greater Diversity of Viewpoints on Conservation
In a call to arms published this week in the journal Nature
, a group of more than 200 environmental scientists, academics and others involved in the fields of conservation research, policy and advocacy, condemned what they called a lack of diversity within their ranks and the philosophical polarization they say it has engendered. Spearheaded by Heather Tallis, lead scientist at the Nature Conservancy, and Jane Lubchenco, a professor of marine biology at Oregon State University and former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the commentary argues that a once-spirited but constructive debate between two conservation philosophies — one viewing nature as intrinsically valuable, the other connecting its value with its utility — was now mired in vitriol and acrimony. "We believe that this situation is stifling productive discourse, inhibiting funding and halting progress," the authors wrote, adding that the situation was being made worse because the "dispute has become dominated by only a few voices, nearly all of them men’s."
05 Nov 2014:
Norway Best Prepared Nation
For Climate Change, Global Index Shows
Norway is the best prepared country for climate change, and has been so for almost 20 years, according to
compiled by the University of Notre Dame. New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark rounded out the top five, while Chad, Burundi, Eritrea, Central African Republic, and Congo make up the bottom of the Global Adaptation Index. The rankings highlight the disparities between the world’s relatively wealthy, developed nations and its developing economies when it comes to dealing with climate change. Many of the highest ranking countries do face moderate exposure to climate change, the researchers said, but access to amenities such as electricity, sanitation, clean drinking water, and functional governance have left them better prepared. The economies of many developing countries, however, depend on natural resources, which makes their political and economic stability more susceptible to climate change. The index ranked 178 countries on their vulnerability and readiness to adapt to natural disasters associated with global warming.
Interview: Saving World’s Oceans Begins With Coastal Communities
Aggressively curbing overfishing, pollution, and development is something coastal communities
can do immediately to protect their ocean resources — and with dramatic results — says marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. As the executive director of the Waitt Institute
, an ocean conservation organization, Johnson recently put that approach to the test on the Caribbean island of Barbuda. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, she discusses how she helped Barbuda craft rules to protect its ocean resources and why she favors community-driven conservation efforts over more top-down approaches.
Read the interview.
03 Nov 2014:
Climate Impacts To Be Severe and Irreversible Without Emission Cuts, UN Says
Climate change will have “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on society and the environment
The U.N. climate panel's synthesis report was released on November 2.
unless nations swiftly and drastically cut carbon emissions — a goal that, while difficult, still remains within reach, according to a comprehensive new United Nations climate report released this week. Failure to curb emissions by the end of the century will likely lead to food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major coastal cities and entire island nations, and dangerous yet routine heat waves, among other impacts, the analysis concluded. But the panel also said for the first time that combating climate change is economically feasible. The new U.N. report synthesizes the findings from a series of analyses released over the past year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the panel's first major update since 2007.
31 Oct 2014:
Giant Galapagos Tortoises Are Making a Strong Comeback, Researchers Say
Giant Galapagos tortoises have made a remarkable comeback over the last five decades, and their
Giant Galapagos tortoise (Chelonoidis hoodensis)
population on the Galapagos island of Española is now secure, according to
researchers from the U.S. and Ecuador. Although their global population was down to 15 individuals in the 1960s, after 40 years of captive breeding and reintroduction efforts, the species now numbers roughly 1,000, the study
found. About half of the tortoises released on the island since 1975 were still alive in 2007, and they’re now reproducing on their own in the environment. Ecologically, though, the tortoises face some challenges, the study notes. A critical source of food is a native cactus species that was nearly wiped out by feral goats. This likely limits the tortoises' current range, but the reptiles are also aiding the return of the cactus, the scientists say, because they help to spread its seeds.
30 Oct 2014:
China Is Top Developing Nation for Clean Energy Investment, Analysis Finds
China is the most attractive among developing nations for low-carbon investment and deployment, according to an analysis by the Climatescope project
, a partnership among various international development agencies and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. China received top marks because it is the largest manufacturer of wind and solar equipment in the world, has the largest demand market for wind and solar energy, and has taken major strides to improve its domestic policy framework score, the analysis said
. Brazil ranked second, largely due to the country's aggressive approach to clean energy development and the availability of low-cost capital through its national bank, the report said. South Africa ranked third, and the analysis noted the nation had attracted $10 billion in clean energy investments in 2012 through 2013. The project ranked 55 developing countries on their past, present, and future ability to attract investment for clean energy companies and projects.
29 Oct 2014:
Weather and Climate Key in Weights of Penguin Chicks, Researchers Say
Local weather and large-scale climate trends have the largest impact on the weights of Adélie penguin chicks
An adult Adélie penguin feeds its chick.
— not food availability — according to
researchers at the University of Delaware. Adélie penguins are native to the West Antarctic Peninsula, and their habitat is warming faster than most other parts of the planet. Looking at records dating back to 1987, scientists found that year-to-year changes in local weather — including wind speed, temperature, rain, and humidity — could cause chicks’ weights at the time they leave their nests to fluctuate by up to 7 ounces. That’s often the difference between a surviving and non-surviving chick, the researchers say. Biologists previously thought that food sources and parenting played the largest role in chicks’ health, but these findings
suggest that exposure to elements is more important. The study "calls into question what happens to an ecosystem when you change climate quickly," principal investigator Matthew Oliver said.
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.
27 Oct 2014:
Forests Protect Waterways
From Nitrogen Pollution, Researchers Find
Forest top soils capture and stabilize nitrogen pollution very quickly but release it slowly, according to new research published in the journal Ecology
. The findings indicate that mature forests may be providing an under-appreciated service by storing excess nitrogen, which can lead to algal blooms and oxygen-depleted dead zones if too much is released into lakes and waterways. Older forests store nitrogen more efficiently than young forests recovering from clear-cuts, the researchers found
, because they have accumulated more top soil and organic matter within the forest floor. Previously, it had been unclear how mature forests continued to capture and store nutrients such as nitrogen after they stopped adding tree biomass. The new research indicates it’s likely due to the delay between nitrogen uptake, which happens within days, and nitrogen release, which unfolds over years and decades.
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.
23 Oct 2014:
Drones Can Help Map Spread
Of Infectious Diseases, Researchers Say
Aerial drones can help track changes in the environment that may accelerate the spread of
Researchers in Malaysia program a drone
infectious diseases, an international team of researchers writes in the journal Trends in Parasitology
. Land use alterations, such as deforestation or agricultural changes, can affect the movement and distribution of people, animals, and insects that carry disease, the authors explain. One drone project, for example, tracked changes in mosquito and monkey habitats in Malaysia and the Philippines. By combining land-use information collected by drones with public health data, researchers there are hoping to better understand how changes in the environment affect the frequency of contact between people and disease vectors like mosquitoes and macaques, both of which can harbor the malaria parasite.
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.
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.
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.
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.