Environment

  • Urban resilienceStrengthening urban infrastructure to withstand extreme weather-related events

    A multi-disciplinary team of about fifty researchers from fifteen universities and other institutions will address the vulnerability of urban infrastructure to extreme weather related events, and ways of reducing that vulnerability. Funded under a $12 million research grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the researchers will conduct their extensive work over the coming five years. In light of weather related extremes, such as increasing storm frequency and intensity, as well as climate uncertainties, this network will evaluate threats to transportation, electricity, water, and other services in major urban areas, and the social, ecological, and technical systems to protect infrastructure and increase its flexibility and adaptability, using new designs and technologies.

  • WaterIsrael shares its approach, solutions to drought with California

    Israel has developed expertise in coping with droughts, and a delegation from Israeli water companies recently visited California, meeting with state officials and corporations to propose solutions to the drought, now in its fourth year. It was the latest in a series of consultations and symposiums highlighting Israeli water expertise and its potential to help California.

  • EnergyWhere does solar energy stand, where does it need to go to fulfill its potential?

    Most experts agree that to have a shot at curbing the worst impacts of climate change, we need to extricate our society from fossil fuels and ramp up our use of renewable energy. The sun’s energy is unlimited, free and clean, and the amount that hits Earth in one hour is equal to the amount of energy used in one year by the entire planet. Yet, although installed global photovoltaic capacity increased almost nine-fold and the price of solar panels dropped by two-thirds between 2008 and 2013, only 1 percent of U.S. and global electricity generation come from solar energy. Where does solar energy stand today, and where does it need to go in order for us to make the transition to renewable energy?

  • Resilience2014 was Earth’s warmest year on record; climate markers show global warming trend

    In 2014, the most essential indicators of Earth’s changing climate continued to reflect trends of a warming planet, with several markers such as rising land and ocean temperature, sea levels, and greenhouse gases — setting new records. The report’s climate indicators show patterns, changes, and trends of the global climate system. Examples of the indicators include various types of greenhouse gases; temperatures throughout the atmosphere, ocean, and land; cloud cover; sea level; ocean salinity; sea ice extent; and snow cover. “The variety of indicators shows us how our climate is changing, not just in temperature but from the depths of the oceans to the outer atmosphere,” said Thomas Karl, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information.

  • DisastersMillions displaced as a result of climate-related disasters, building in hazard-prone areas

    In the last seven years, an estimated one person every second has been displaced by a disaster, with 19.3 million people forced to flee their homes in 2014 alone. In 2014, 17.5 million people were forced to flee their homes by disasters brought on by weather-related hazards such as floods and storms, and 1.7 million by geophysical hazards such as earthquakes. Climate change is expected to exacerbate the situation in the future, as severe weather hazards become more frequent and intense. Man-made factors — such as rapid economic development, urbanization, and population growth in hazard-prone areas – have also contributed to the the overall increase in disaster displacement.

  • ResilienceIAEA uses nuclear detection techniques to help measure climate change effects

    The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is responsible for monitoring compliance with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) – but the detection technologies it uses to detect illicit nuclear activities are also helpful in tracking and quantifying the effects of climate change. Nuclear techniques offer substantial advantages over conventional techniques for measuring climate change impact. “Stable isotope analyzers let us monitor agricultural processes as they happen. They allow us to quantify carbon capture and emission patterns of farming practices, enabling us to find ways to improve them,” explained one expert.

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  • Climate & securityClimate change a security risk second only to terrorism: Aussie defense report

    The Australian government’s energy White Paper made headlines for its reluctance to mention the term “climate change” — but a forthcoming defense White Paper does not share these reservations. A report on community consultations conducted by the authors of the defense White Paper highlights the consequences of climate change, extreme weather events, and environmental pressures as a significant security risk for Australia – second only to the risks posed by terrorism.

  • ETsWe could find aliens any day now: SETI scientists discuss extraterrestrial life hunting

    ET phone Earth! We could be on the verge of answering one of the essential questions of humanity that has captivated our minds for centuries. As we advance in technology the search for extraterrestrial life becomes more sophisticated and promising. But the real frosting on the cake would be finding any signs of an intelligent alien civilization. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) project is looking carefully for these signs, listening to the universe that may be full of potential ET signals. Key figures of alien life hunting discuss the ongoing search for extraterrestrial life.

  • WaterNASA balances water budget with new estimates of liquid assets

    By Ellen Gray

    Many pressing questions about Earth’s climate revolve around water. With droughts and flooding an ongoing concern, people want to know how much water is on the move and where it is going. To help answer those questions, a new NASA study provides estimates for the global water cycle budget for the first decade of the twenty-first century, taking the pulse of the planet and setting a baseline for future comparisons.

  • EnergyProducing fuel from Canada oil sands emits 20 percent more CO2 than from U.S. crude

    In 2013, the oil industry was producing nearly two million barrels per day from Canadian oil sands. By 2030, that number is expected to rise to just over 4.8 million barrels per day. As the United States takes stock of its greenhouse gas emissions, scientists report that the current oil sands production of fuels from “well-to-wheels” releases about 20 percent more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than making gasoline and diesel from conventional crudes.

  • Food securityIf global warming is left unchecked, fish will have to find new habitats -- or perish

    The goods and services our oceans provide are valued at hundreds of billions of dollars per year. A new study assessed the impact of climate change on marine and coastal ecosystems, ocean chemistry, tourism, and human health. The study specifically analyzed how warming will impact fisheries and the global economic gains we receive from these fisheries. It found that Climate change is forcing fish out of their current habitats and into cooler waters and many more species will soon be affected if climate goals are not met. “From looking at the surface of the ocean, you can’t tell much is changing,” said one researcher. “The oceans are closely tied to human systems and we’re putting communities at high risk.”

  • 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.