Environment

  • Infrastructure protectionUsing natural, engineering solutions to help U.K. address extreme weather events

    The United Kingdom is seeing increased seasonal flood damage not only from coastal and river surges, but from rising groundwater as well. The scale and unpredictability of these events in recent years, while devastating, can also serve as a helpful mirror of future climate change and its predicted effects in the longer term. Experts say that natural solutions, such as reforestation, to improve flood defenses and attempts to keep water in place may provide both short and long term solutions.

  • WaterDrought-driven use of underground water threatens water supply of western U.S.

    Scientists find that more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. The Colorado River is the only major river in the southwest part of the United States. Its basin supplies water to about forty million people in seven states, as well as irrigating roughly four million acres of farmland. Monthly measurements in the change in water mass from December 2004 to November 2013 revealed the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater, almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total — about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers) — was from groundwater. The extent of groundwater loss may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought.

  • Industrial pollutionExtensive corrosion found at chemical tanks of W.Va. site which contaminated region

    Investigators by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) have reported that they detected significant corrosion in MCHM chemical storage tanks at the Freedom Industries site responsible for a 9 January contamination of the Elk River which has impacted over 300,000 residents of the area.

  • EarthquakesUpdating information about U.S. regional earthquake hazards

    The USGS recently updated their U.S. National Seismic Hazard Maps, which reflect the best and most current understanding of where future earthquakes will occur, how often they will occur, and how hard the ground will likely shake as a result. While all states have some potential for earthquakes, 42 of the 50 states have a reasonable chance of experiencing damaging ground shaking from an earthquake in fifty years (the typical lifetime of a building). Scientists also conclude that sixteen states have a relatively high likelihood of experiencing damaging ground shaking. These states have historically experienced earthquakes with a magnitude 6 or greater. To help make the best decisions to protect communities from earthquakes, new USGS maps display how intense ground shaking could be across the nation.

  • WaterGroundwater reservoirs are being depleted at an increasing rate

    The rate at which the Earth’s groundwater reservoirs are being depleted is constantly increasing. Annual groundwater depletion during the first decade of this century was twice as high as it was between 1960 and 2000. India, the USA, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China are the countries with the highest rates of groundwater depletion. About 15 percent of global groundwater consumption is not sustainable, meaning that it comes from non-renewable groundwater resources. The increased use of groundwater for irrigation also results in a rise in sea levels, with roughly one tenth of the total sea level rise during the period from 2000 to 2009 due to groundwater depletion.

  • Infrastructure protectionDebate in Texas over fossil fuel-based economic growth

    Texas officials tout the state’s economic growth, which is due in part to the state’s energy sector. That same energy sector puts Texas’ economy at risk in decades to come, with scientists saying that this economic growth comes at a high cost.State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, who was appointed by then-Governor George W. Bush, notes that the state is projected to be several degrees warmer and experience longer and more severe droughts. The see along portions of the state’s 367-mile Gulf Coast has already risen up to one foot in the past century.

  • Infrastructure protectionSilicon Valley braces for floods, storm surges caused by sea level rise

    A new analysis found that $36.5 billion in property and at least 145,000 California residents could be directly affected in the next thirty years from flooding caused by sea level rise. San Mateo County, home to major corporations including Facebook, Oracle, and Genentechin Palo Alto, and the low-income population of East Palo Alto, would be the most affected.

  • EnergyThe price tag of the 2° climate target

    Addressing climate change will require substantial new investment in low-carbon energy and energy efficiency — but no more than what is currently spent on today’s fossil-dominated energy system. To limit climate change to 2° Celsius, low-carbon energy options will need additional investments of about $800 billion a year globally from now to mid-century, according to a new study, but much of that capital, however, could come from shifting subsidies and investments away from fossil fuels and associated technologies. Worldwide, fossil subsidies currently amount to around $500 billion per year.

  • DisastersTornado threat in Tornado Alley can be eliminated by building walls: scientists

    In the United States, most devastating tornadoes occur in Tornado Alley, which is a strip of land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains, including most American Midwest states. In 2013, there were 811 confirmed tornadoes in the United States, 57 in Europe, and 3 in China. Among 811 tornadoes in the United States, most, especially the most devastating ones, occurred in Tornado Alley. Scientists say that building three 300 meter high and 50 meter wide walls, at the cost of about $160 million each — the first close to the northern boundary of the Tornado Alley, maybe in North Dakota; the second one in the middle, maybe in the middle of Oklahoma and going to east; the third one in the south of Texas and Louisiana – would significantly reduce, if not eliminate altogether, the threat of devastating tornadoes in Tornado Alley.

  • Infrastructure protectionN.C. “rolling” 30-year sea level rise report gaining support from both sides

    In 2010, coastal developers and Republican legislators in North Carolina were alarmed when a state science panel warned that the Atlantic Ocean is expected to increase by thirty-nine inches along the state’s shores by the end of the century. The state legislature soon ordered a four-year moratorium on official sea-level predictions and gave the Coastal Resources Commission(CRC) guidelines for developing a new official state forecast. In May, Frank Gorham III, chairman of the commission, announced that the next forecast will only predict sea-level rise for the next thirty years, a time span during which model-based predictions about sea level rise along the North Carolina coast – about eight inches — are largely accepted by both sides to the climate change debate. Gorham stresses, however, that he wants a “rolling” 30-year forecast to be updated every five years.

  • WaterChemical pollution of European waters is worse than anticipated

    Until now environmental authorities and parts of the scientific community have considered toxic chemicals to be rather a local problem affecting only a few bodies of water. A new study, however, reveals for the first time on a large scale the ecological risks emanating from chemical toxicants for several thousands of European aquatic systems. Chemical toxicity represents an ecological threat to almost half of all European bodies of water, and in approximately 15 percent of cases, the biota in freshwater systems may even be subject to acute mortality.

  • Oil spillsSmart coating could make oil-spill cleanup faster and more efficient

    In the wake of recent off-shore oil spills, and with the growing popularity of “fracking” — in which water is used to release oil and gas from shale – there is a need for easy, quick ways to separate oil and water. Now, scientists have developed coatings that can do just that.

  • FloodsUrban man-made drainage may increase risk of flooding

    Installing drainage systems in developing towns and cities can cause water to reach rivers more quickly, potentially raising the risk of flooding, say scientists. They suggest that, in some cases, storm drains may do more to increase the risk of flooding than changes in the land surface.

  • Infrastructure protectionTowns in northeast U.S. develop adaptation strategies for climate change

    In many northeastern towns along the coast of the United States, local officials are attempting to identify and predict the effects of climate change which will occur over the next few decades. “You’re going to feel impacts. It’s a global issue with local effects…We don’t know exactly what’s coming, so let’s plan to be adaptable,” says a leader of a regional climate adaptation project.

  • InfrastructureDebate continues over controversial lawsuit-killing Louisiana oil bill

    Governor Bobby Jindal (R-Louisiana) is facing a difficult decision over whether or not to veto a measure which would kill a contentious lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPA-E) against ninety-seven different oil and gas companies regarding long-term environmental damage claims, including those of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion.