Environment

  • Climate & securityU.S. exposed in Arctic as a result of climate change: Military experts

    Senior former military commanders and security advisors warn that global warming is jeopardizing U.S. national security. They said that political gridlock in Washington over climate change has left the U.S. military exposed to Russia’s superior fleets in the Arctic, flooding in U.S. naval bases, and a more unstable world. “We’re still having debates about whether [climate change] is happening, as opposed to what we should do about it,” said a former undersecretary of defense. “We need to guard against the failure of imagination when it comes to climate change. Something is going to happen in the future years, and we’re not going to be prepared.”

  • FloodsMajor Midwest flood risk underestimated by as much as five feet: Study

    As floodwaters surge along major rivers in the Midwestern United States, a new study suggests federal agencies are underestimating historic 100-year flood levels on these rivers by as much as five feet, a miscalculation that has serious implications for future flood risks, flood insurance, and business development in an expanding floodplain. Moreover, high-water marks are inching higher as global warming makes megafloods more common.

  • WaterOur mostly dry planetary neighbors once had lots of water -- what does that imply for us?

    By David A. Weintraub

    Our two closest solar system neighbors, Venus and Mars, once had oceans — planet-encircling, globe-girdling, Earth-like oceans, but neither Venus nor Mars could hold onto their water for long enough to nurture advanced life forms until they could flourish. The lessons from Venus and Mars are clear and simple: water worlds are delicate and fragile. Water worlds that can survive the ravages of aging, whether natural or inflicted by their inhabitants — and can nurture and sustain life over the long term — are rare and precious. If we allow the temperature of our planet to rise a degree or two, we may survive it as a minor environmental catastrophe. But beyond a few degrees, if we allow a runaway greenhouse effect to kick up the temperature a few more notches, do we know the point at which global warming sends our atmosphere into a runaway death spiral, turning Earth into Venus? We know what the endgame looks like.

  • Oil spillsEco-friendly oil spill solution developed

    Chemists have developed an eco-friendly biodegradable green “herding” agent that can be used to clean up light crude oil spills on water. Derived from the plant-based small molecule phytol abundant in the marine environment, the new substance would potentially replace chemical herders currently in use.

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  • Coastal resilienceSea-level rise threatens $40 billion of national park assets, historical and cultural infrastructure

    U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell last week released a report revealing that national park infrastructure and historic and cultural resources totaling more than $40 billion are at high risk of damage from sea-level rise caused by climate change. The report was conducted by scientists from the National Park Service and Western Carolina University and is based on an examination of forty parks — about one-third of those considered threatened by sea-level rise — and the survey is on-going.

  • Coastal resilienceUNC-Chapel Hill launches Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence

    The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill officially launched its new Coastal Resilience Center of Excellence (CRC), made possible through a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate, Office of University Programs five-year, $20 million grant. The CRC initiative led by UNC-Chapel Hill will include collaboration with more than a dozen partner universities to address the challenges facing communities across the United States which are vulnerable to coastal hazards.

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  • WaterCalifornia Republicans introduce bill to improve Western water reliability

    Republican members of the California congressional delegation yesterday introducing a bill to modernize water policies in California and throughout the Western United States. The bill has the support of the entire California Republican delegation, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, and chairman of the Western Caucus. The bill’s authors say that H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015, aims to make more water available to families, farmers, and communities in California and bordering Western states. The bill takes aim at what the authors describe as the “dedication of vast quantities of water to protect certain species of fish listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) [which] is a significant obstacle hindering water delivery in Central and Southern California.” H.R. 2898 will require federal agencies to use current and reliable data when making regulatory decisions, which in turn will provide more water for communities in need.

  • Food securityPrecision agriculture: Sensors and drones as farmers’ best friends

    The precision agriculture sector is expected to grow at a high rate over the coming years. This new way of farming is already a reality in northwest Italy, where technologies are being used to keep plants in a good state of health but also to avert the loss of quality yield. Sensors and drones can be among the farmers’ best friends, helping them to use less fertilizers and water, and to control the general condition of their crops.

  • Coastal resilienceStudying Louisiana's wetlands -- a natural barrier between land and sea

    NASA recently completed an intensive study of Louisiana Gulf Coast levees and wetlands, making measurements with three advanced imaging instruments on two research aircraft. NASA instruments fly over the Gulf Coast one to three times per year to keep consistent records of ground subsidence — the gradual sinking of an area of land — which can compromise the integrity of roads, buildings and levee systems. Scientists also closely monitor vegetation changes in the coastal wetlands to better understand how to preserve them. The marshlands not only are home to a delicate ecosystem, but also serve as a natural barrier between land and sea.

  • WildfiresMore than two million California homes at risk as drought continues

    Verisk Insurance Solutions, a Verisk Analytics, has released its 2015 FireLine State Risk Reports, which summarize wildfire risk in thirteen wildfire-prone states. Three new states — Montana, Oklahoma, and Wyoming — are included in this year’s analysis. Among the key findings: There are 4.5 million U.S. homes at high or extreme risk of wildfire, and California ranks first for the highest number of households at high or extreme risk with just over two million — approximately three times the second highest, Texas, with 706,200.

  • EnergyState-by-state plan to convert U.S. to 100 percent clean, renewable energy by 2050

    One potential way to combat ongoing climate change, eliminate air pollution mortality, create jobs, and stabilize energy prices involves converting the world’s entire energy infrastructure to run on clean, renewable energy. This is a daunting challenge. Now, researchers for the first time have outlined how each of the fifty states can achieve such a transition by 2050. The fifty individual state plans call for aggressive changes to both infrastructure and the ways we currently consume energy, but indicate that the conversion is technically and economically possible through the wide-scale implementation of existing technologies.

  • WaterNOAA’s new National Water Center will bolster U.S. ability to manage threats to water security

    The National Water Center, a new facility located at the University of Alabama, aims to become an incubator for innovative breakthroughs in water prediction products and services. As the country becomes more vulnerable to water-related events, from drought to flooding, the predictive science and services developed by NOAA and its partners at the National Water Center will bolster the U.S. ability to manage threats to its finite water resources and mitigate impacts to communities. Bringing experts together in this new collaborative center provides an unprecedented opportunity to improve federal coordination in the water sector to address twenty-first century water resource challenges, such as water security, and analysis and prediction of hydrologic extremes, like droughts and floods.

  • WaterWater security key to unlocking African prosperity

    There is mounting evidence of the risks posed by water scarcity to business and economic growth. A 2012 projection by the International Food Policy Research Institute says 45 percent of total GDP — $63 trillion — will be at risk due to water stress by 2050. With coordinated action, better water provision in Africa will strengthen economic growth and unlock the path to prosperity for millions, according to SABMiller’s Chief Executive Alan Clark.

  • WaterCalifornia’s agriculture feels pain of harsh drought

    The California drought is expected to be worse for the state’s agricultural economy this year because of reduced water availability, according to a new study. Farmers will have 2.7 million acre-feet less surface water than they would in a normal water year — about a 33 percent loss of water supply, on average. Reduced availability of water will cause farmers to fallow roughly 560,000 acres, or 6 to 7 percent of California’s average annual irrigated cropland. The drought is estimated to cause direct costs of $1.8 billion — about 4 percent of California’s $45 billion agricultural economy. When the spillover effect of agriculture on the state’s other economic sectors is calculated, the total cost of this year’s drought on California’s economy is $2.7 billion and the loss of about 18,600 full- and part-time jobs.

  • WaterSummer tropical storms do not alleviate drought conditions

    Popular opinion says that tropical storms and hurricanes that make landfall mitigate droughts in the southeastern United States. This simply is not true, according to researchers. According to a NOAA report, 37.4 percent of the contiguous United States was experiencing moderate drought at the end of April – but “The perception that land-falling tropical cyclones serve to replenish the terrestrial water sources in many of the small watersheds in the southeastern U.S. seems to be a myth,” says one of the researchers.