Environment

  • Coastal infrastructurePriorities for ocean science over next decade: Sea-level rise, geohazards

    A new report from the National Research Council identifies priority areas for ocean science research in the next decade, including the rate and impacts of sea-level rise, the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems, greater understanding of marine food webs, and better approaches for forecasting hazards such as mega-earthquakes and tsunamis. The report also recommends that the National Science Foundation rebalance its funding for ocean science research, which in recent years has shifted toward research infrastructure at the expense of core science programs.

  • InfrastructureBoston's aging pipes leak high levels of heat-trapping methane

    The aging system of underground pipes and tanks that delivers natural gas to Boston-area households and businesses leaks high levels of methane, with adverse economic, public health, and environmental consequences. Now a group of atmospheric scientists at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) has produced hard numbers that quantify the extent of the problem.

  • WaterAtmospheric rivers, cloud-creating aerosol particles, and California water situation

    In the midst of the California rainy season, scientists – using aircraft, research vessel, and ground stations — are embarking on a field campaign designed to improve the understanding of the natural and human-caused phenomena that determine when and how the state gets its precipitation. They will do so by studying atmospheric rivers, meteorological events that include the famous rainmaker known as the Pineapple Express. Atmospheric rivers, which produce up to 50 percent of California’s precipitation and can transport 10-20 times the flow of the Mississippi River.

  • Coastal infrastructureSea level rise has been more rapid than previously understood: Study

    The acceleration of global sea level change from the end of the twentieth century through the last two decades has been significantly swifter than scientists thought, according to a new Harvard study. The study shows that calculations of global sea-level rise from 1900 to 1990 had been overestimated by as much as 30 percent. The report, however, confirms estimates of sea-level change since 1990, suggesting that the rate of change is increasing more rapidly than previously understood.

  • Coastal infrastructuresRivers of meltwater on Greenland’s ice sheet contribute to rising sea levels

    As the largest single chunk of melting snow and ice in the world, the massive ice sheet that covers about 80 percent of Greenland is recognized as the biggest potential contributor to rising sea levels due to glacial meltwater. Until now, however, scientists’ attention has mostly focused on the ice sheet’s aquamarine lakes — bodies of meltwater that tend to abruptly drain — and on monster chunks of ice that slide into the ocean to become icebergs. A new study reveals, however, a vast network of little-understood rivers and streams flowing on top of the ice sheet that could be responsible for at least as much, if not more, sea-level rise as the other two sources combined.

  • EnergyWhich fossil fuels must remain in the ground to limit global warming?

    A third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves, and over 80 percent of current coal reserves globally should remain in the ground and not be used before 2050 if global warming is to stay below the 2°C target agreed by policy makers, according to new research. The study also identifies the geographic location of existing reserves that should remain unused and so sets out the regions that stand to lose most from achieving the 2°C goal.

  • Carbon sequestrationGeochemical reactions may limit effectiveness of carbon storage schemes

    New research shows that the natural reactions taking place in some of the underground reservoirs used to store carbon dioxide may prevent carbon emissions from being transported to greater depths, where it may be less likely to leak into the atmosphere. Geochemical reactions taking place in aquifers — underground layers of water-bearing porous rock — may lead to carbon dioxide being “pooled” for hundreds or even thousands of years, and may force a rethink of how these underground reservoirs are used in carbon capture and storage (CCS) schemes.

  • Disaster early warningTen years after the Boxing Day tsunami, are coasts any safer?

    By Emily Heath

    Ten years ago we witnessed one of the worst natural disasters in history, when a huge earthquake off the coast of Sumatra triggered a devastating tsunami which swept across the Indian Ocean. An estimated 230,000 people lost their lives, and 1.6 million people lost their homes or livelihoods. The impact was greatest in northern Sumatra because of its proximity to the earthquake. Catastrophic shaking was followed within minutes by the full force of the tsunami. Thousands of people were also killed in distant countries, where the earthquake could not be felt. If they had received a warning of the approaching tsunami, they could have moved inland, uphill or out to sea, and survived. Future tsunami disasters are inevitable, but with better technology, education and governance we can realistically hope that a loss of life on the scale of the 2004 tsunami disaster will not happen again.

  • Coastal infrastructureHelping coastal communities to visualize sea-level rise

    As part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) initiative to encourage communities to become more aware of the effects of climate change, the agency has awarded Marin County, California a $150,000 grant to engage residents in climate change issues by allowing them to visualize the effects of sea level rise. The grant will pay for two sophisticated viewfinders programed to envision how the landscape will appear in projected sea level rise scenarios, as well as how the landscape appeared in the past.

  • California waterIt will take 11 trillion gallons to replenish California drought losses: NASA

    Since 2011, the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins decreased in volume by four trillion gallons of water each year (fifteen cubic kilometers). This is more water than California’s thirty-eight million residents use each year for domestic and municipal purposes. About two-thirds of the loss is due to depletion of groundwater beneath California’s Central Valley. It will take about eleven trillion gallons of water (forty-two cubic kilometers) — around 1.5 times the maximum volume of the largest U.S. reservoir — to recover from California’s continuing drought, according to a new analysis of NASA satellite data.

  • FloodsBetter forecasts for rain-on-snow flooding

    Many of the worst West Coast winter floods pack a double punch. Heavy rains and melting snow wash down the mountains together to breach river banks, wash out roads and flood buildings. These events are unpredictable and difficult to forecast. Yet they will become more common as the planet warms and more winter precipitation falls as rain rather than snow. Mountain hydrology experts are using the physics behind these events to better predict the risks.

  • Hazy hajjMecca faces severe air pollution during annual pilgrimage

    Dangerously high levels of air pollutants are being released in Mecca during the hajj, the annual holy pilgrimage in which millions of Muslims on foot and in vehicles converge on the Saudi Arabian city, according to findings of a new study. “Hajj is like nothing else on the planet. You have 3 to 4 million people — a whole good-sized city — coming into an already existing city,” said one researcher. “The problem is that this intensifies the pollution that already exists. We measured among the highest concentrations our group has ever measured in urban areas — and we’ve studied seventy-five cities around the world in the past two decades.”

  • EnergyNew chemical sponge would lessen the carbon footprint of oil industry

    U.K. scientists have discovered a ground-breaking technique with the potential dramatically to reduce the amount of energy used in the refinement of crude oil. The existing industrial process uses huge amounts of energy to separate and purify these gases, so the new technique has the potential to revolutionize the oil industry by significantly reducing carbon emissions and making the process more environmentally friendly.

  • California drought2012-14 California drought the worst in 1,200 years

    New research shows that the California drought of 2012-14 has been the worst in 1,200 years. California is the world’s eighth largest economy and the source of a substantial amount of U.S. produce. Surface water supply shortages there have impacts well beyond the state’s borders. The research indicates that natural climate system variability is compounded by human-caused climate change and that “hot” droughts such as the current one are likely to occur again in the future.

  • California droughtPredicting future droughts in California

    According to a new NOAA-sponsored study, natural oceanic and atmospheric patterns are the primary drivers behind California’s ongoing drought. A high pressure ridge off the West Coast (typical of historic droughts) prevailed for three winters, blocking important wet season storms, with ocean surface temperature patterns making such a ridge much more likely. The study found no conclusive evidence linking human-caused climate change and the California drought.