• How bad will this El Niño be? Worse than you may think

    Last week, Columbia University Earth Institute’s International Research Institute on Climate and Society convened a 2-day workshop reflecting on efforts over the past twenty years to improve responses to climate variability, especially risks associated with El Niño. Concerns that the current El Niño has the potential to exceed in severity the devastating El Niño of 1997-98 permeated the discussion. At the conference, Marc A. Levy of the Earth Institute presented a brief overview of the social, economic, and political changes that will have a large effect on human impacts from El Niño. He amplifies those remarks here.

  • U Maine launches center for studying, developing coastal and offshore structures

    During a laboratory dedication on Monday at the University of Maine, the Harold Alfond Foundation announced a $3.9 million grant to the University of Maine to match $9.98 million already raised, formally establishing the Harold Alfond W2 Ocean Engineering Laboratory and Advanced Manufacturing Laboratory at the Advanced Structures and Composites Center on campus. The UMaine Composites Center is the largest STEM research and development program located in a Maine university, and is at the heart of one of UMaine’s seven Signature Areas of Excellence — Advanced Materials for Infrastructure and Energy.

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  • Records: October, year-to-date hottest in human history

    October 2015 was the hottest October in modern history, and the first ten months of the year have also set new records for worldwide warmth, U.S. government scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said last week. The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for October 2015 was the highest for October in the 136-year period of record, at 0.98°C (1.76°F) above the twentieth century average of 14.0°C (57.1°F). The first ten months of 2015 comprised the warmest such period on record across the world’s land and ocean surfaces, at 0.86°C (1.55°F) above the twentieth century average, surpassing the previous record of 2014 by 0.12°C (0.22°F).

  • DHS seeking faculty, students for summer 2016 research programs

    The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is seeking faculty, undergraduate, and graduate students interested in participating in one of its 10-week programs in summer 2016, including its Summer Research Team Program for Minority Serving Institutions and its Homeland Security — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (HS-STEM) Summer Internship Program. The deadlines for applying for both programs occur in December 2015.

  • Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) technology for on-site detection

    Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) technology currently is applied using chemical analysis of materials, such as scanning at airports to identify what materials may be inside of glass vials. Researchers want to expand SERS for use in biological applications that could employ antibodies for purposes such as identifying viruses, water toxins, or pathogens in food samples. The researchers work on developing a small hand-held device that allows users to take a sample, put it in a glass vial and insert into the instrument for rapid identification.

  • Small landscape changes can yield big freshwater gains

    A typical bird’s-eye view of the Midwest offers a patchwork landscape covered mostly by agriculture but mottled with forest, wetland, grassland, buildings, and pavement. This pattern influences the quality and supply of the many natural benefits the landscape provides people, including freshwater. A new opportunity for improving the health and supply of Wisconsin’s lakes, waterways, and groundwater has emerged from a recent study showing that making small tweaks to how large some of those patches in the pattern are could mean big freshwater benefits, especially where making drastic changes to the landscape would be hard, as is the case throughout much of the state.

  • Global climate finance increases to $391 billion

    A new report about the world’s inventory of climate finance shows that more money than ever before — at least $391 billion — was invested in low-carbon and climate-resilient actions in 2014. Private actors invested $243 billion in renewable energies, a surge of 26 percent from 2013, which resulted in record solar PV and onshore wind deployment. Public finance reached at least $148 billion continuing its steady growth over the past three years. Also, 74 percent of total climate finance ($290 billion) and 92 percent ($222 billion) of private investment was raised and spent in the same country. The domestic preference of climate finance highlights the importance of domestic investment policy and support frameworks.

  • Most people object to fully autonomous weapons: Survey

    Public opinion is against the use of autonomous weapons capable of identifying and destroying targets without human input, according to a new survey. “It has been said that future wars will be fought with completely automated systems,” said one of the researchers behind the survey. “The survey results clearly show that more public discussion is necessary so that we can make intelligent decisions about robotic weapon technologies.”

  • Investment portfolios may take short-term hits as a result of climate change sentiment

    A new report reveals that global investment portfolios could lose up to 45 percent as a consequence of short-term shifts in climate change sentiment. The report concluded that about half of this potential loss could be avoided through portfolio reallocation, while the other half is “unhedgeable,” meaning that investors cannot necessarily protect themselves from losses unless action on climate change is taken at a system level.

  • New material enables more efficient desalination

    Engineers have found an energy-efficient material for removing salt from seawater. The material, a nanometer-thick sheet of molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) riddled with tiny holes called nanopores, is specially designed to let high volumes of water through but keep salt and other contaminates out, a process called desalination.

  • Wireless technology enables advanced up protective clothing

    Combining the latest advances in sensor and wireless technology with comfortable protective clothing has opened up new partnership possibilities across a range of sectors. Numerous end users stand to benefit from the inclusion of smart technology in protective clothing. One French start-up has pioneered intelligent active protection systems for ski racers. Further advances may see the use of advanced protective clothing by soldiers and first responders.

  • Declining snow packs put many nations' water supplies at risk

    Gradual melting of winter snow helps feed water to farms, cities, and ecosystems across much of the world, but this resource may soon be critically imperiled. Scientists have identified snow-dependent drainage basins across the northern hemisphere currently serving two billion people that run the risk of declining supplies as a result of global warming. “Water managers in a lot of places may need to prepare for a world where the snow reservoir no longer exists,” one scientist says.

  • Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere hit another record

    The amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached yet another new record high in 2014, continuing a relentless rise which is fueling climate change and will make the planet more dangerous and inhospitable for future generations, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The pre-industrial level of CO2 — of about 278 ppm — represented a balance between the atmosphere, the oceans, and the biosphere. Human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels has altered the natural balance, and in spring 2015, the global average concentration of CO2 crossed the 400 ppm barrier. The global annual average is likely to pass 400 ppm in 2016.

  • Climate change adaptation – from local initiatives to national policies

    We all know that the climate is changing, but how can we best prepare for some of the changes that lie ahead? Should coastal cities change their building codes to accommodate rising sea levels? Should we allocate more resources to tree-planting to reduce urban heat islands? These are examples of local initiatives that can make a difference to climate change adaptation. Indeed, climate adaptation is a rapidly growing concern for the international community.

  • Microwave absorber may advance radar cloaking for stealth missions

    Microwave absorbers are a kind of material that can effectively absorb incident microwave energy to make objects invisible to radar; therefore they are commonly used in aircraft cloaking and warship stealth. Recently, as radar detection devices have been improved to detect the near-meter microwave length regime, scientists are working on high-performance absorbers that can cloak objects in the equivalent ultra-high frequency regime (from 300 megahertz to two gigahertz). Conventional absorbers for the ultra-high regime, however, are usually thick, heavy, or have narrow absorption bandwidth, making them unsuitable for stealth missions. To solve this problem, researchers have developed an ultra-thin, tunable broadband microwave absorber for ultra-high frequency applications.