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North America


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.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

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 and partially
soybeans coated with neonicotinoids
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.
PERMALINK

 

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
methane coalbed
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.
PERMALINK

 

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

Enlarge

Tidal flood frequency
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.
PERMALINK

 

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.
PERMALINK

 

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

Enlarge

Sediment plumes off the coast of Greenland
NASA satellite image 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.
PERMALINK

 

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

Enlarge

Gathering of walruses
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.
PERMALINK

 

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.
PERMALINK

 

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.
PERMALINK

 

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

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.
PERMALINK

 

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,

Click to Enlarge

2014 power additions
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.
PERMALINK

 

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.
PERMALINK

 

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
Wendy Palen
Wendy Palen
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.
PERMALINK

 

28 Aug 2014: Rail Transport of U.S. Oil Up
By 9 Percent, Creating Rail Car Shortage

The amount of U.S. oil shipped by rail rose 9 percent during the first seven months of the year compared to 2013, reaching 16,000 carloads per week in July,

Click to Enlarge

Rise in rail oil transport
according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). U.S. crude oil production reached an estimated 8.5 million barrels per day in June for the first time in 18 years and is driving the increase in rail transport, the EIA said. Only 3 percent of petroleum shipped by rail in 2009 was crude oil; now crude accounts for more than half. Over the past three years, much of the oil has come from the Bakken Shale, primarily in North Dakota. Between 60 and 70 percent of the more than 1 million barrels per day of oil produced in North Dakota has been transported by rail so far in 2014, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority. The demand for rail cars has created a backlog that's been particularly worrisome for farmers, who say their grain is rotting before shipping space is available to take it to market.
PERMALINK

 

27 Aug 2014: Obama Seeks Climate
Accord Without Congressional Approval

The Obama administration is aiming to forge a legally binding, international agreement that would cut fossil

Barack Obama
fuel emissions and direct funds to poor nations dealing with climate change, without ratification from Congress, The New York Times reports. The agreement would combine legally binding updates to an existing 1992 climate change treaty — allowing Obama to sidestep the constitutional requirement that treaties be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate — with voluntary pledges for specific emissions targets and aid to help poorer countries adapt to climate change. Nations would then be legally required to report progress toward their emissions targets at international meetings that would "name and shame" countries making slow or no progress, the Times reports. Lawmakers from both political parties say that no climate agreement requiring congressional approval could be reached in the near future. Republican leaders are expected to oppose the agreement being worked on by the administration and say it would be an abuse of executive authority.
PERMALINK

 

22 Aug 2014: Drought in Western U.S.
Has Caused Land to Rise, Researchers Say

The western U.S. has lost so much water during the ongoing severe drought that the land has sprung up by

GPS station in California's Inyo Mountains
as much as 15 millimeters (0.6 inches), according to a study in the journal Science. Water at the surface of the earth typically weighs down the land, but the region has lost enough water that the tectonic plate underlying the western U.S. has undergone rapid uplift, much like an uncoiling spring, researchers explain. California's water deficit over the past 18 months has caused some of its mountain ranges to rise by more than half an inch, and the West overall has risen by 0.15 inches, according to the study. Using ground positioning data from GPS stations throughout the region, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, estimate the water loss to be 240 gigatons (63 trillion gallons) — equivalent to a nearly four-inch layer of water spread out over the entire western U.S.
PERMALINK

 

20 Aug 2014: Exporting Coal to Korea Could
Slash Emissions by 21 Percent, Analysis Says

Exporting U.S. coal to South Korean power plants could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent compared to burning it at less efficient U.S. plants, according to researchers at Duke University. The strategy could also generate more than $25 billion in economic activity in the U.S. and cut emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter, the researchers say. For those benefits to occur, however, U.S. plants would need to replace the exported coal with natural gas, and South Korea must use the imported coal to replace dirtier sources of coal. South Korea's coal-fired power plants are newer and significantly more efficient than those in the U.S. — efficient enough to offset emissions associated with shipping the coal across the globe, the researchers say. However, they also caution that further studies are needed to assess the scenario's full environmental impacts, including water use, land use, and the degradation of vital habitats.
PERMALINK

 

19 Aug 2014: Wind Energy Prices at
All-Time Low, According to U.S. Report

The cost of wind power in the U.S. is at an all-time low of 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour, according to a new report

Click to Enlarge

Major U.S. wind farms
from the U.S. Department of Energy, and utility companies are in some cases electing to use wind as an energy source over fossil fuels because of its low cost. Although wind power grew modestly in 2013 — installations were only 8 percent of those seen in the record year of 2012 — it now meets 4.5 percent of U.S. energy needs, producing enough electricity to power 16 million homes. The country ranks second only to China in installed wind capacity, the report says, and wind power accounts for 33 percent of all new U.S. electric capacity additions since 2007. That progress has been heavily dependent on federal, state, and local incentives, however, and wind power's growth could slow if those incentives expire. Its viability could also fall if natural gas becomes more affordable than wind, the report cautions.
PERMALINK

 

13 Aug 2014: New Maps Show Flooding
Risks for Critical U.S. Energy Facilities

A new mapping tool shows critical energy infrastructure in the U.S., such as power plants, refineries, and crude oil rail terminals, that may be vulnerable to coastal and

Click to Enlarge

Brooklyn, NY, flood risks
inland flooding, as well as areas that may be prone to flooding in the future. The maps, created by the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, let users see which energy facilities could be in danger of flooding caused by hurricanes, flash floods, and other weather events, including street-level results for a particular address. The maps show areas that have a 1-in-100 (1 percent) and 1-in-500 (0.2 percent) chance of flooding annually, as well as areas that might be identified in the future as having a 1-percent annual flood hazard.
PERMALINK

 

11 Aug 2014: Climate Effects of Keystone XL
Significantly Underestimated, Study Finds

The U.S. State Department's final environmental review of the Keystone XL Pipeline may have underestimated carbon dioxide emissions associated with the pipeline by as much as four times, according to a new study published in Nature Climate Change. The addition of Keystone XL crude oil to the market will drive global oil prices down, the authors say, which in turn will increase demand for oil worldwide — by as much as 0.6 barrels for every barrel of Keystone XL oil added to the market. The extra oil consumption could add up to 110 million tons of CO2 to the atmosphere each year, an amount four times larger than the State Department's estimate of up to 27 million tons annually, according to the study. President Obama has said he will let the pipeline proceed only if it will not "significantly exacerbate" greenhouse gas emissions. The State Department's final review determined that the pipeline's effect on climate change would be negligible, but that analysis did not take into account the increase in crude oil demand that could be sparked by Keystone XL, the authors of the new study say.
PERMALINK

 

06 Aug 2014: Western U.S. In Its Quietest
Fire Season In A Decade, Officials Report

The western U.S. is in the midst of its quietest wildfire season in a decade, according to data from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). With 1.7 million acres burned through August 4, the 2014 fire season has destroyed well below the average of 4.4 million acres for the previous nine years through the same date. Fire season still has a few months left, however, and the year's good fortune may not last: Above normal fire potential is expected to continue over most of California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, according to the NIFC. Average temperatures have been 2 to 4 degrees above normal for most of the West; portions of the western Great Basin, northern California, and Pacific Northwest were 6 to 8 degrees warmer than normal; and exceptional drought conditions continue in California, western Nevada, and the Texas Panhandle, the center says.
PERMALINK

 

04 Aug 2014: California Takes Steps to
Curb Lawn Watering During Severe Drought

In the midst of a severe, long-term drought, California is taking unprecedented steps to discourage watering of

A drought-resistant yard
residential lawns, with some areas offering residents substantial cash incentives for installing water-saving landscaping, AFP reports. The "Cash in Your Lawn" program in Los Angeles offers residents up to $6,000 ($3 per square foot) for replacing their lawns with drought-tolerant plants, rocks, and pebbles. Throughout the state, Governor Jerry Brown recently prohibited lawn watering more than two times per week and banned fines for brown lawns, which homeowner associations sometimes impose with the intent of improving a neighborhood's appearance. The drought, currently in its third year, threatens the water supply of California's 38 million residents. Agricultural regions have already seen severe water reductions, placing extra pressure on the state's groundwater reserves.
PERMALINK

 

31 Jul 2014: U.S. Public and Congress Similarly
Split on Environmental Spending, Study Says

American citizens are increasingly divided over the issue of environmental protection and seem to be taking their cue primarily from Congress, according to new research from Michigan State University. The gap between conservatives who oppose environmental protection and liberals who support it has risen drastically in the past 20 years, the study found. A national poll from 2012 (the most recent data in the study) with a question on environmental spending indicated that 68 percent of Democrats believe the country has spent too little on the environment, versus only 40 percent of Republicans. The polling data, which reach back to 1974, indicate the gap started growing particularly wide in 1992, a year after the fall of the Soviet Union. At that point, the researchers say, the conservative movement replaced the “Red Scare” with the “Green Scare” and became increasingly hostile toward environmental protection, a trend amplified in recent years by the Tea Party.
PERMALINK

 

Interview: Making the Rights of
Farm Animals a Basic Green Issue

Conservation organizations have long sought to protect pandas, polar bears, and pelicans, but the welfare of
Wayne Pacelle
Wayne Pacelle
farm animals has largely been left to activist animal-welfare groups like the Humane Society of the United States. For the past 10 years, that organization has been headed by the politically savvy Wayne Pacelle, who has greatly increased its visibility and influence. Under his leadership, the society has lobbied successfully to curb what it calls the worst excesses of “factory farms.” In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Pacelle talked about how treatment of farm animals is linked to greenhouse gas emissions, why his group is promoting “meatless Mondays,” and why consumers should be willing to pay more for products from animals that are sustainably raised.
Read more.
PERMALINK

 

28 Jul 2014: Trees Save Lives and Billions in
Health Costs Annually, Forest Service Finds

Trees are saving more than 850 human lives each year and preventing 670,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms in the U.S., according to the first broad-scale

Click to Enlarge
Pollution removal by trees

Pollution removal by trees
estimate of trees' air pollution removal by U.S. Forest Service researchers. Looking at four common air pollutants — nitrogen dioxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 microns — researchers valued the human health benefits of the reduced air pollution at nearly $7 billion annually in a study published in the journal Environmental Pollution. The benefits of trees vary with tree cover across the nation, the researchers note. Tree cover in the United States is estimated at 34.2 percent overall, but varies from 2.6 percent in North Dakota to 88.9 percent in New Hampshire. While the pollution-removal capabilities of trees led to an average air quality improvement of less than 1 percent, the impacts are substantial, the study found.
PERMALINK

 

25 Jul 2014: Southwestern U.S. Aquifers
Are Extremely Low, NASA Data Show

Groundwater reserves in the U.S. Southwest are severely low and prospects for their long-term viability are bleak as persistent drought continues to parch the

Click to Enlarge
Groundwater aquifer levels

U.S. groundwater stores
land and prevent recharging, according to an assessment from NASA. As shown in this map, many underground aquifers in the Southwest are extremely dry compared to average conditions over the past 60 years. Deep red areas on the map, such as in southern California and Nevada, depict aquifers that are so dry there's less than a 2 percent chance they could have experienced such levels of drought-related depletion since 1948. Although the Pacific Northwest is experiencing drought-related wildfires, its aquifers appear to be well-stocked, according to the map. The discrepancy is likely due to the long lag between dry conditions at the surface and depletion of groundwater reserves, researchers say.
PERMALINK

 

16 Jul 2014: Politics and Education Affect
When People Search for Climate Information

People across the United States search the Internet for information on climate change when they experience unusual or severe weather events, but the timing of their searches differs based on political ideology and education levels, according to research published in the journal Climatic Change. An analysis of Google searches and weather patterns between 2004 and 2013 found that Democratic-leaning regions and those with higher education levels were more likely to seek information about climate change when average summer temperatures were above normal, whereas those in Republican and less educated areas sought climate change information when they experienced extreme heat. Searches peaked during weather consistent with climate change as well as during cold snaps, the study found. This could indicate that people who observe unusual extreme weather conditions are genuinely interested in learning more about climate change, or that climate deniers, when experiencing unusually cool weather, go online to confirm their skeptical views, the researcher speculated.
PERMALINK

 

15 Jul 2014: California Agriculture Relying
Too Heavily on Groundwater in Drought

California's agriculture industry is relying too heavily on groundwater to irrigate drought-stricken farmlands — a trend that will not be sustainable long-term, according

Central Valley orchard
to a study by the University of California, Davis. The drought, which is the third most severe on record, is responsible for the greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture, with river water for Central Valley farms reduced by roughly one-third, the study found. Groundwater pumping will likely replace most river water losses, and some areas have more than doubled their pumping rate over the previous year. If the drought continues for two more years, the report says, groundwater reserves will continue to be depleted to replace surface water losses and pumping ability will slowly decrease, which could affect crop production. So far in the current drought, 428,000 acres of cropland — roughly 5 percent — has been made fallow across the Central Valley, Central Coast, and Southern California.
PERMALINK

 

26 Jun 2014: Major U.S. Retailers to Limit
Pesticides That May Be Harmful to Bees

Home Depot and other U.S. retailers announced new policies to help limit the use of a group of pesticides suspected of contributing to widespread declines in bee
retail greenhouse

New warnings on plants aim to protect bees.
populations, Reuters reports. Under the new rules, suppliers will be required to label any plants treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, or "neonics," that are sold in home and garden stores. Home Depot will require labeling by the fourth quarter of 2014, a company vice president said, and the retailer is testing to determine whether it's feasible to eliminate neonics altogether without compromising plant health. Another retailer, BJ's Wholesale Club, which has more than 200 East Coast locations, said it will ask suppliers to eliminate neonics by the end of the year, or label plants treated with them as requiring "caution around pollinators." An analysis of 800 peer-reviewed studies released this week by an international group of scientists found that neonics have been a key factor in bee declines.
PERMALINK

 

25 Jun 2014: Blizzard Helps Scientists
Visualize Airflow Around Wind Turbines

A Minnesota blizzard has helped scientists understand airflow patterns around large wind turbines, paving the way for more efficient turbine designs and wind farm

Watch Video
wind turbine airflow during blizzard

Airflow patterns are visible during blizzard.
configurations, researchers report in Nature Communications. Wind farms lose roughly 10 to 20 percent of the potential energy they could harvest, and complex airflow patterns play the largest role in those energy losses. Studying airflow around large turbines, which can be more than 100 meters tall, is not feasible in lab settings, so scientists typically test smaller turbine models in wind tunnels and use tracer particles to visualize airflow patterns. Researchers from the University of Minnesota realized they could scale up their experiments to real-world conditions by using heavy snowfall during a blizzard to trace airflow patterns, as shown in this video. Their findings show that airflow patterns under real-world conditions differ from smaller-scale laboratory tests in important ways, and those differences should be taken into account when designing turbines and wind farms.
PERMALINK

 

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