• Emerging threatsWorrisome milestone: Atmospheric CO2 levels reach 400 parts per million in 2015

    Globally averaged concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached the symbolic and significant milestone of 400 parts per million for the first time in 2015 and surged again to new records in 2016 on the back of the very powerful El Niño event. CO2 levels had previously reached the 400 ppm barrier for certain months of the year and in certain locations but never before on a global average basis for the entire year. The longest-established greenhouse gas monitoring station at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, predicts that CO2 concentrations will stay above 400 ppm for the whole of 2016 and not dip below that level for many generations.

  • Energy securityBolstering energy security with homegrown energy sources

    The U.S. Department of Energy has a goal to develop and demonstrate transformative bioenergy technologies to fuel a more sustainable nation. Reaching that goal will require roughly a billion tons of biomass, so we will need to rely on a variety of resources to get the job done.

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  • Emerging threatsRisk analysis for common ground on climate loss and damage

    The Paris Agreement included groundbreaking text on the need for a mechanism to help identify risks beyond adaptation and support the victims of climate-related loss and damage — but how exactly it will work remains unclear. The question of how to deal with dangerous climate change as being experienced and perceived by developing countries and communities has been one of the most contentious questions in international climate negotiations.

  • Emerging threatsSeptember 2nd warmest on record for globe – but monthly record-warm streak ends

    August’s warmth spread into September, contributing to the warmest year to date for the globe, but not enough to continue the recent 16-month streak of record warmth. Even so, September 2016 ranked as the second warmest September on record.

  • STEM educationSome STEM fields have fewer women than others. Why?

    Women’s relative lack of participation in science, technology, engineering, and math is well documented, but why women are more represented in some STEM areas than others is less clear. Women now earn about 37 percent of undergraduate STEM degrees in the United States, but their representation varies widely across those fields. Women receive more than 40 percent of undergraduate degrees in math, for example, but just 18 percent of degrees in computer science.

  • ResilienceCities should be made more resilient against extreme weather

    Over the past three decades, Europe has seen a 60 percent increase in extreme weather events. In Venice, there were 125 events in 2014, compared to only 35 in 1983 and 44 in 1993. Of these, seven were extreme in 2014, compared to only one in 1983. Moreover, in 2014, flooding and winter storms caused an estimated €20 billion in disruption to the economy  in the United Kingdom alone, while damage by the flash floods in Genoa amounted to €100 million.

  • EncryptionChina’s quantum satellite could make data breaches a thing of the past

    By Robert Young

    China recently launched a satellite into orbit with a unique feature: it has the ability to send information securely, not with mathematical encryption but by using the fundamental laws of physics. China will be the first country to achieve this feat, and it marks a milestone in the development of quantum technologies. The next revolution in technology promises to embrace fundamental laws of physics to enable devices to perform operations that are beyond the bounds of current electronics. For practical quantum communications we need devices integrated into our computers and smartphones that exchange data in a similar way to the quantum satellite. These devices are thankfully just around the corner. In a few years we may look back on digital eavesdropping and massive information breaches from databases as a problem buried in the past.

  • Forest firesClimate change has doubled Western U.S. forest fire area

    Human-induced climate change has doubled the area affected by forest fires in the U.S. West over the last thirty years. Scientists say that since 1984, heightened temperatures and resulting aridity have caused fires to spread across an additional 16,000 square miles than they otherwise would have — an area larger than the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined. The scientists warn that further warming will increase fire exponentially in coming decades.

  • CybersecurityPenn State cybersecurity club gets competitive

    The members of the Penn State Competitive Cyber Security Organization (CCSO) are embroiled in a game of capture-the-flag. They’re in hot pursuit of the pennant, hoping to find it before their competitors. But instead of dashing across fields and through the woods, they’re gathered in a conference room sharing pizza. And instead of searching for a brightly colored flag, they use their cybersecurity skills to find a “flag” that is actually a special computer file.

  • Food & water securityEven if the Paris Agreement is implemented, food and water supplies remain at risk

    By Mark Dwortzan

    If all pledges made in last December’s Paris climate agreement (COP21) to curb greenhouse gases are carried out to the end of the century, then risks still remain for staple crops in major “breadbasket” regions and water supplies upon which most of the world’s population depend. Recognizing that national commitments made in Paris to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fall far short of COP21’s overarching climate target — to limit the rise, since preindustrial times, in the Earth’s mean surface temperature to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 — a new report advances a set of emissions scenarios that are consistent with achieving that goal.

  • Extreme weatherWhen catastrophe strikes, who foots the bill?

    By Carolin Schellhorn

    One consequence of climate change is that extreme weather events are occurring more often with the potential to cause catastrophic damage more frequently. According to the 2016 Global Risks Report of the World Economic Forum, extreme weather events rank second as the most likely threat to global stability going forward. And my research on the safety and soundness of financial institutions suggests this trend may also threaten the stability of the insurance industry. Extreme weather is expensive for insurance companies and their reinsurers, communities, taxpayers, and also, potentially, capital market investors. And it’s only getting more expensive as climate change increases the frequency of storms and their severity. While more can be done to improve risk pricing and risk management, climate change mitigation is critical for our ability to continue to survive and recover from the catastrophes that lie ahead.

  • EnergyCoal's decline driven by technology, market forces – not policy

    Many people – and many politicians — attribute coal’s decline to the clean-air policies of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through rules that the agency applied to electricity generation plants. A new study points out that largely because of court challenges, EPA clean-air regulations did not change until 2015 — twenty-five years after President G. H. W. Bush signed amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1980. For eighteen years following new EPA rules, coal continued to thrive — until 2008, when its production peaked and then declined 23 percent in the next seven years. The study found that the decline is correlated with the shale revolution that began to be fully felt in 2007-2008, after which cheap natural gas outcompeted coal markedly.

  • DisastersAs the climate warms, New Jersey “primed” for worse storms than Sandy

    With the climate warming and the sea level rising, conditions are ripe for storms deadlier and more devastating than Sandy that put more people at risk. Experts say that Sandy was not the worst possible storm in the region and they warn that as the sea rises, much weaker storms than Sandy may pack big punches. The atmosphere will hold nearly 4 percent more moisture for every 1 degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature, and the increased warmth and moisture will lead to a more energetic atmosphere.

  • Climate & national securityA military view on climate change: It’s eroding our national security and we should prepare for it

    By David Titley

    U.S. military leaders and defense planners have been studying climate change for years from a perspective that rarely is mentioned in the news: as a national security threat. And they agree that it poses serious risks. Here is how military planners see this issue: We know that the climate is changing, we know why it’s changing, and we understand that change will have large impacts on our national security. Yet as a nation we still only begrudgingly take precautions. The next president will have a choice to make. One option is to continue down the path that the Obama administration has defined and develop policies, budgets, plans, and programs that flesh out the institutional framework now in place. Alternatively, he or she can call climate change a hoax manufactured by foreign governments and ignore the flashing red lights of increasing risk. The world’s ice caps will not care who is elected or what is said. They will simply continue to melt, as dictated by laws of physics. But Americans will care deeply about our policy response. Our nation’s security is at stake.

  • ResilienceNew $4 million facility at UW to investigate natural disasters worldwide

    A new Post-Disaster, Rapid Response Research Facility at the University of Washington will provide necessary instrumentation and tools to collect and assess critical post-disaster data, with the goal of reducing physical damage and socio-economic losses from future events. The NSF’s $40 million NHERI investment, announced in September 2015, funds a network of shared research centers and resources at various universities across the nation. The goal is to reduce the vulnerability of buildings, tunnels, waterways, communication networks, energy systems, and social groups in order to increase the disaster resilience of communities across the United States.