Environment

  • Food securityFor soybean growers, hidden cost of climate change exceeds $11 billion

    Even during a good year, soybean farmers nationwide are, in essence, taking a loss. This is because changes in weather patterns have been eating into their profits and taking quite a bite: $11 billion over the past twenty years. This massive loss has been hidden, in effect, by the impressive annual growth seen in soybean yields thanks to other factors. That growth, however, could have been 30 percent higher if weather variations resulting from climate change had not occurred, according to a new study.

  • Coastal infrastructureU.K. coastal railways at increasing risk from climate change

    Footage of a railway line suspended in mid-air and buffeted remorselessly by the storm that had caused the sea wall to collapse beneath it made for one of the defining images of 2014. Scenes such as those witnessed at Dawlish in Devon are set to become more frequent as a result of climate change, and the U.K. government and rail companies must face up to difficult funding decisions if rural areas currently served by coastal lines are to continue to be connected to the rail network. For railway builders in the mid-nineteenth century the coast was cheaper, flatter, and easier than using inland sites, one expert points out. “We wouldn’t have built these railway lines where they are if we had today’s knowledge.”

  • WaterWorld population may outpace water supply by mid-century

    Population growth could cause global demand for water to outpace supply by mid-century if current levels of consumption continue. It would not, however, be the first time this has happened, a new study finds. Using a delayed-feedback mathematical model which analyzes historic data to help project future trends, the researchers identified a regularly recurring pattern of global water use in recent centuries. Periods of increased demand for water — often coinciding with population growth or other major demographic and social changes — were followed by periods of rapid innovation of new water technologies that helped end or ease any shortages. The researchers’ conclusions: Technological advances will be needed in coming decades to avoid water shortages.

  • Coastal infrastructureRising sea level will double Hawaii’s coastal erosion by mid-century

    New research brings into clearer focus just how dramatically Hawaiʻi beaches might change as sea level rises in the future. Chronic erosion dominates the sandy beaches of Hawaiʻi, causing beach loss as it damages homes, infrastructure, and critical habitat. Researchers have long understood that global sea level rise will affect the rate of coastal erosion. The research team developed a simple model to assess future erosion hazards under higher sea levels, taking into account historical changes of Hawaiʻi shorelines and the projected acceleration of sea level rise reported from the IPCC. The results indicate that coastal erosion of Hawaiʻi’s beaches may double by mid-century.

  • Tipping pointsPolicy makers discount damages from future climate tipping points – but they should not

    Most methods that weigh up the costs and benefits of tackling climate change ignore climate tipping points, and especially the uncertainty surrounding them. Instead, they assume that future damages from climate change are known perfectly and can therefore be discounted at a rate comparable to the market interest rate – thus reducing the willingness to pay now to protect future generations. New research shows, however, that the prospect of an uncertain future tipping point should greatly increase the amount we are willing to pay now to limit climate change. The study argues that society should set a high carbon tax now to try and prevent climate change reaching a point of no return.

  • WaterCalifornia exploring water purification, imports, and conservation as water situation worsens

    California officials are calling on residents better to manage their water usage as the state enters its fourth consecutive year of drought. An average American uses 100 gallons of water each day, and reservoirs in California only have enough water to supply this level of consumption until the end of 2015. In 2014 alone, the state’s agriculture sector lost $2.2 billion in revenue as a result of the drought. State officials acknowledge that a heavy rainfall alone will not be sufficient to restore the groundwater the state needs, so water districts are investing in water recycling plants and exploring strategies ranging from importing water to encouraging greater conservation.

  • WaterDiminished Utah snowpack threatens Salt Lake City water supply

    Studies of water use from 2005 to 2010 show that Utahans used more water for public supply than any other state, despite Utah being ranked the second most arid within the country. Significantly lower levels of Utah snowpack this winter are the biggest climate challenge now facing Salt Lake City: The Northeastern part of the country is inundated with record amounts of snow, but Salt Lake City’s snowpack is 69 percent below the 30-year average.

  • Coastal infrastructureClimate change discussion: Shifting from mitigation to adaptation

    Many infrastructure protection experts say that there is a need to discuss not only how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also how to plan for and adapt to the inevitable consequences of those emissions, which are already changing the climate. One area in which adaptation to climate change is likely to be especially painful is in coastal areas affected by sea level rise. In some coastal regions, communities will be forced to retreat from the coast as a result of rising sea level and increasing damage from storms and flooding. Part of the problem is that policies such as disaster relief programs and insurance regulations create a system that protects many property owners from the true costs of building in risk-prone areas of the coast. “We have a system of private gains and externalized costs,” said one expert.

  • WaterAverting global water crisis

    Climate change is increasing the demand for desalinated water — by 2025,14 percent of the global population will be forced to use desalinated sea water — as greater evaporation and rising seas further limit freshwater supplies for a growing world population. Current methods to desalinate water, however, come at a very high cost in terms of energy, which means more greenhouse gases and more global warming. Carbon nanotube membranes have the potential to tackle the current and future challenges in water purification.

  • Coastal infrastructureRising seas bring heavy burden to Florida coastal economy. Can it adapt?

    By Karl Havens

    Florida is a coastal state. Nearly 80 percent of its twenty million residents live near the coast on land just a few feet above sea level, and over a hundred million tourists visit the beaches and stay in beach-front hotels every year. The coastal economy in Florida is estimated to account for 79 percent of the state’s gross domestic product, a measure of direct revenue into the economy. It now is widely accepted that climate change is causing an unprecedented rise in sea levels around the world, and that locations such as Florida, where huge infrastructure and large populations live right on the coast, are especially vulnerable. An important reality is that sea-level rise is not a future phenomenon. It has been happening slowly over the past decades, at about one inch every ten years. That’s a half foot since the 1960s and already it is taking a toll.

  • Coastal infrastructurePeople in coastal zones in Asia, Africa are most vulnerable to sea-level rise

    The number of people potentially exposed to future sea level rise and associated storm surge flooding may be highest in low-elevation coastal zones in Asia and Africa, according to new projections. The researchers assessed future population changes by the years 2030 and 2060 in the low-elevation coastal zone and estimated trends in exposure to 100-year coastal floods. The number of people living in the low-elevation coastal zone, as well as the number of people exposed to flooding from 100-year storm surge events, was highest in Asia. China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Viet Nam had the largest numbers of coastal population per country and accounted for more than half of the total number of people living in low-elevation coastal zones.

  • Coastal infrastructureBoston prepares for life with rising sea levels

    A 2013 World Bank studylisted only seven cities in the world as more vulnerable to flooding than Boston. The other American cities are Miami, New York, New Orleans, and Tampa. Faced with the prospect of having a significant portion of the city underwater, city officials and private developers have launched a competition to redesign Boston for the year 2100, with the assumption that sea levels will be five feet higher than they are today. The Living With Watercompetition looks to prove that the future of Boston can coexist with rising sea levels.

  • Coastal infrastructureGeologists: Popular Irish tourism hotspot “slowly drowning”

    Geologists have found evidence that Connemara, described by Discover Ireland, a tourism body, as one of the country’s “most iconic destinations,” is slipping under the sea.”It’s certain that the sea has encroached considerably onto the land around Galway Bay since the ice melted…and that the strange, watery landscape is indeed being shaped by a slow drowning”of Connemara, said Jonathan Wilkins, a geologist with the Earth Science Ireland (ESI) group.

  • Coastal infrastructureSea level rise causing changes in ocean tide levels, tidal ranges

    Scientists have found that ocean tides have changed significantly over the last century at many coastal locations around the world. Increases in high tide levels and the tidal range were found to have been similar to increases in average sea level at several locations.

  • DroughtsWarming temperatures cause of recent California droughts

    California has experienced more frequent drought years in the last two decades than it has in the past several centuries. That observed uptick is primarily the result of rising temperatures in the region, which have climbed to record highs as a result of climate change, Stanford scientists say. Researchers have examined the role that temperature has played in California droughts over the past 120 years. They also examined the effect that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are having on temperature and precipitation, focusing on the influence of global warming upon California’s past, present, and future drought risk. The team found that the worst droughts in California have historically occurred when conditions were both dry and warm, and that global warming is increasing the probability that dry and warm years will coincide. The findings suggest that California could be entering an era when nearly every year that has low precipitation also has temperatures similar to or higher than 2013-14, when the statewide average annual temperature was the warmest on record.