Environment

  • Natural gas saves water, reduces drought vulnerability

    A new study finds that in Texas, the U.S. state that annually generates the most electricity, the transition from coal to natural gas for electricity generation is saving water and making the state less vulnerable to drought. Even though exploration for natural gas through hydraulic fracturing requires significant water consumption in Texas, the new consumption is easily offset by the overall water efficiencies of shifting electricity generation from coal to natural gas. The researchers estimate that water saved by shifting a power plant from coal to natural gas is 25 to 50 times as great as the amount of water used in hydraulic fracturing to extract the natural gas.

  • Freshwater loss compounds climate change’s detrimental effects on agriculture

    A warmer world is expected to have severe consequences for global agriculture and food supply, reducing yields of major crops even as population and demand increases.Agricultural models estimate that given the present trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions, climate change will directly reduce food production from maize, soybeans, wheat, and rice by as much as 43 percent by the end of the twenty-first century. Now, a new analysis combining climate, agricultural, and hydrological models finds that shortages of freshwater used for irrigation could double the detrimental effects of climate change on agriculturedue to the reversion of twenty to sixty million hectares of currently irrigated fields back to rain-fed crops.

  • Sea level rise, shoreline changes leading influences on flooding from hurricanes

    Recent studies into coastal flooding have focused on climate change impacts on the intensity and frequency of tropical cyclones themselves, but researchers say that two other factors contribute even more to the growing threats to coastal communities: sea level rise and shoreline retreat. Researchers highlight sea level rise and its potential dramatically to change the coastal landscape through shoreline erosion and barrier island degradation, and say that it is an under-appreciated and understudied factor that could lead to catastrophic changes in flood risk associated with tropical cyclones, known as hurricanes in the North Atlantic.

  • Exploring geoengineering research, ethics, governance

    Hacking the Earth’s climate to counteract global warming — a subject that elicits strong reactions from both sides — is the topic of a December special issue of the journal Climatic Change. A dozen research papers include the most detailed description yet of the proposed Oxford Principles to govern geoengineering research, as well as surveys on the technical hurdles, ethics, and regulatory issues related to deliberately manipulating the planet’s climate.

  • Japan tsunami exacerbated by landslide

    The 2011 Japan tsunami, which killed up to 20,000 people and caused the partial meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant, was made worse by an underwater landslide, according to scientists. “The earthquake alone cannot explain the height of the waves along the Sanriku coast of northern Honshu Island,” says one scientist. “They were generated by a submarine landslide.” The research poses a big problem for early-warning systems, because where the risk of landslides goes unrecognized, tsunamis generated by similar earthquakes could be seriously underestimated.

  • Enjoy it while you can: 850 million more years before oceans boil away

    Scientists had estimated that the Earth’s oceans would boil away in about 150 million years. The reason: the sun expands as it runs out of hydrogen fuel, and that expansion, 150 million years from now,would cause “runaway” global warming leading to the boiling of the oceans. Scientists have now found that the Earth’s “Goldilocks Zone” — where it is neither too hot nor too cold for liquid to exist on a planet orbiting a star— is slightly larger than previously thought, meaning Earth has bought itself some additional time — about 700 million years – before the oceans evaporate.

  • Uranium found to be mobile in a natural wetland

    Because they are known to mop up pollutants, artificial wetlands are considered to be an efficient strategy to contain waterborne uranium. Studying a natural wetland near a former uranium-mining site in the French region of Limousin, however, researchers have found that under certain circumstances, uranium can be partly remobilized into the surrounding water. The researchers show how it becomes mobile again by binding to tiny metallic and organic compounds with a little help from ambient bacteria.

  • Collapse of the universe closer than previously thought

    Maybe it happens tomorrow. Maybe in a billion years. Physicists have long predicted that the universe may one day collapse, and that everything in it will be compressed to a small hard ball. New calculations by physicists now confirm this prediction — and they also conclude that the risk of a collapse is even greater than previously thought.

  • U.S. loses clean electricity as nuclear power plants keep closing

    Four nuclear power plants, sources of low-emissions electricity, have announced closings this year. The main reason: the increasing availability of cheap natural gas as a result of fracking. If plants continue to shut down instead of extending operations, the United States risks losing 60 percent of its clean electricity starting in 2030, according to a new report by the American Physical Society (APS). The APS calls on socially responsible investors to encourage utilities to consider carbon emissions in business decisions.

  • Post-Sandy study shows a polluted but largely intact barrier system off Long Island

    As coastal communities continue to rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, scientists last week reported some encouraging news: The storm did not seriously damage the offshore barrier system that controls erosion on Long Island. Long-term concerns remain about the effects on the region of sea-level rise, pollutants churned up by the storm within back-barrier estuaries, and the damage closer to shore, but in the near-term, Long Island residents can rebuild knowing that Hurricane Sandy did not significantly alter the offshore barrier systems that control coastal erosion on the island.

  • Scrapping sea level protection puts Australian homes at risk

    By Barbara Norman

    As the science on the coastal impacts of climate change gets stronger, the protections for Australia’s coastal communities are getting weaker. Along the eastern seaboard of Australia, where most Australians live, state governments are relaxing their policies and largely leaving it to local councils to decide if homes can be built in low-lying areas.Over the past fifty years, there have been twenty-five national inquiries and reports into coastal management. Those inquiries have overwhelmingly come to the conclusion that rather than leaving it to local councils, Australia needs one set of clear, national guidelines on coastal development and infrastructure. That is the opposite of what we are now seeing around Australia, with a mish-mash of different rules in different states. If that continues, everyone will pay.

  • Food security and self-provision of major cities

    Wealthy capital cities vary greatly in their dependence on the global food market. The Australian capital Canberra produces the majority of its most common food in its regional hinterland, while Tokyo primarily ensures its food security through import. The Copenhagen hinterland produces less than half of the consumption of the most common foods. For the first time, researchers have mapped the food systems of capital cities, an essential insight for future food security if population growth, climate change, and political instability will affect the open market.

  • Global map predicts giant earthquakes

    Researchers have developed a new global map of subduction zones, illustrating which ones are predicted to be capable of generating giant earthquakes and which ones are not. The research comes nine years after the giant earthquake and tsunami in Sumatra in December 2004, which devastated the region and many other areas surrounding the Indian Ocean, and killed more than 200,000 people.

  • New Jersey shore to face unprecedented flooding by mid-century

    Geoscientists estimate that the New Jersey shore will likely experience a sea-level rise of about 1.5 feet by 2050 and of about 3.5 feet by 2100 — 11 to 15 inches higher than the average for sea-level rise globally over the century. That would mean, the scientists say, that by the middle of the century, the one-in-ten year flood level at Atlantic City would exceed any flood known there from the observational record, including Superstorm Sandy.

  • No need to worry about getting fried by gamma ray burst

    If recent news that University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) researchers observed the largest gamma ray burst ever has you nervous about getting blasted into extinction by a massive burst from space, the UAH researchers have good news. The chances of Earth being fried by a burst are exceedingly rare.