Environment

  • WaterSan Francisco to add local groundwater to reservoir supply

    The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has begun digging in the area around Golden Gate Park with the intention of adding local underground water flows to the traditionally sourced water from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite. The change is expected to take place over the next two years and will replace between 10 to 15 percent of the water supply. Despite the fact that the water is less pure, city officials expect that difference will be negligible.

  • Infrastructure protectionGlobal warming skeptics unmoved by extreme weather

    What will it take to convince skeptics of global warming that the phenomenon is real? Surely, many scientists believe, enough droughts, floods, and heat waves will begin to change minds. A new study throws cold water on that theory. Winter 2012 was the fourth warmest winter in the United States dating back to at least 1895. Researchers found, however, that when it came to attributing the abnormally warm weather to global warming, respondents largely held fast to their existing beliefs and were not influenced by actual temperatures. This study and past research shows that political party identification plays a significant role in determining global warming beliefs. People who identify as Republican tend to doubt the existence of global warming, while Democrats generally believe in it.

  • WaterWater sector ready for investment, technological innovation

    Investors looking for promising growth markets would do well to consider their water bill. Water’s artificially low price in most of the United States is one factor holding back innovative new water technologies, according to the report – but the time is right for change. Across the West, drought has left wide swaths of agricultural land brown, with massive wildfires raging through tinder-dry forests, residential wells tapped out and unemployed farm workers crowding food pantries. The drought is projected to cost the agricultural sector about $2.2 billion in 2014. The social and ecological damage is also profound. Technological innovation in the water sector could bring a raft of benefits ranging from the conservation of scarce water supplies to the expansion of water supplies through technologies that recycle or desalinate, for example.

  • ClimatePorous molecules bind greenhouse gases

    While carbon dioxide presents the biggest greenhouse problem, several other compounds are hundreds or thousands of times more potent in their greenhouse effect per unit of mass. These compounds include Freons, used as common refrigerants, and fluorocarbons, highly stable organic compounds in which one or more hydrogen atoms have been replaced with fluorine. Chemistry researchers have developed a molecule that assembles spontaneously into a lightweight structure with microscopic pores capable of binding large quantities of several potent greenhouse gases.

  • EnergyGas can be a “bridge fuel” to a low-carbon future

    Major new suggests that gas could play an important role as a “bridging fuel” to a low-carbon economy, but warns that it will not be long before gas becomes part of the problem rather than the solution. The research combines the latest energy system modelling techniques with analysis of U.K. gas security to assess future demand.

  • African securityStudy ties conflict risk in sub-Saharan Africa to climate change, socioeconomics, geography

    A massive new study indicates there is a statistical link between hotter temperatures generated by climate change and the risk of armed conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa. A research team assessed more than 78,000 armed conflicts between 1980 and 2012 in the Sahel region of Africa — a semi-arid belt just south of the Saharan Desert that spans about 3,000 miles and more than a dozen countries from the Atlantic to the Indian oceans. The team was looking for links between armed conflicts and temperature and rainfall anomalies, as well as assessing other causes of violence in the Sahel.

  • FrackingEnergy engineers call for new, less restrictive regulatory framework for fracking

    Leading energy engineers are suggesting that U.K. regulations on the surface vibrations caused by shale gas fracking are unnecessarily restrictive. The engineers state in a new paper that widely applying restrictions similar to those currently in force on fracking would require a ban on heavy vehicles from passing houses or walking on wooden floors. They also state that the threat of serious earthquakes caused by fracking activity is considerably lower than commonly feared.

  • EnergyNew technology reduces cost to capture carbon

    The U.S. Department of Energy’s Savannah River National Laboratory (SRNL) has signed an Exclusive Rights Agreement with Partnering in Innovation, Inc. of Orlando, Florida, in support of new carbon capture technology. Originally developed at SRNL, this approach will help open global markets for cost-effective industrial carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and re-use.

  • Coastal infrastructureSea level rise threatens California coastal infrastructure

    Officials in Humboldt County, California are preparing for sea level rise, which experts say could threaten utilities and U.S. highway 101. The National Research Councilwarns that California, Oregon, and Washington could experience twelve inches of sea level rise by 2050 and thirty-six inches by 2100. Sea level on Humboldt Bay has increased by eighteen inches over the past century due to increasing tide elevation and subsidence. Gas, electrical, and water transmission lines are all buried in the farmlands behind dikes that fortify the shoreline.

  • WaterAs drought continues, more Californians turn to greywater

    California’s rainy season tends to run from October to late March, but for the third year in a row rain has been relatively absent, meaning that the state is currently suffering from a severe, unprecedented drought. With increasing water rates, a growing number of homeowners in Southern California are relying on greywater systems to support their landscapes and toilet flushing. “If the drought continues, honestly, I could see all new construction will have greywater systems of some kind because it really doesn’t make sense to put usable water in the sewer system,” says one expert.

  • Infrastructure protectionNASA facilities across U.S. vulnerable to climate change

    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has been at the forefront of climate science, launching satellites that take the pulse of Earth’s land, oceans, and atmospheric systems, gathering data on climate, weather, and natural hazards. The agency, however, is itself increasingly vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate. Hurricane Isabel partially flooded the Langley Research Center in Virginia in 2003; Hurricane Frances damaged the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in 2004; and Hurricane Katrina damaged buildings at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi in 2005, among recent incidents. Other facilities have been damaged or threatened by tornadoes and wildfires.

  • EbolaHarnessing artificial intelligence to search for new Ebola treatments

    The University of Toronto, Chematria, and IBM are combining forces in a quest to find new treatments for the Ebola virus. Using a virtual research technology invented by Chematria, a startup housed at U of T’s Impact Center, the team will use software that learns and thinks like a human chemist to search for new medicines. Running on Canada’s most powerful supercomputer, the effort will simulate and analyze the effectiveness of millions of hypothetical drugs in just a matter of weeks.

  • Chemical spillsHungarian red mud spill did little long-term damage

    By Tom Marshall

    The aftereffects of the 2010 red mud spill that threatened to poison great swathes of the Hungarian countryside have turned out to be far less harmful than scientists originally feared. The disaster happened when weeks of heavy rain caused a dam to collapse at a containment facility in Ajka in Western Hungary. It released around a million cubic meters of toxic sludge into the Torna-Marcal river system, onto the Hungarian plain and ultimately into the Danube. The mud, a byproduct of refining aluminum from bauxite ore, was dangerously alkaline, extremely salty and contained potentially toxic metals like chromium and vanadium.

  • Coastal infrastructureCoastal towns build resilience to prepare for future storms

    Sea Bright, New Jersey is one of several communities affected by Superstorm Sandy which is actively building resiliency against the next major storm. The town, set on a narrow strip of sand between the Atlantic Ocean and the Shrewsbury River, frequently floods, and during Sandy, its entire downtown business district was damaged, as were 75 percent of the town’s homes.

  • ResilienceStates invest in resilience in the face of mounting extreme-weather challenges

    Months after Superstorm Sandy devastated the New York coast line, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Office of Storm Recovery launched a $17 billion strategy to transform the state’s infrastructure. Project Reimagining New York for a New Reality sought to make the state’s transportation networks, energy supply, coastal protection efforts, weather warning systems, and emergency management more resilient. The strategy is just one example of a trend in investments toward resilience efforts post Hurricane Katrina, Irene, Lee, and Sandy.