Environment

  • Halting bugs’ crop destruction in India saves up to $309 million

    Researchers who first discovered a devastating pest in India and devised a natural way to combat it have now put an economic value on their counterattack: up to $309 million the first year and more than $1 billion over five years. This is the amount of damage the papaya mealybug would have wreaked on farmers and consumers in India without scientists’ intervention. The winning intervention centered on three natural enemies of the mealybug — three parasitic wasps from Mexico— which the U.S. government first employed in Florida after the pest spread there in the late 1990s.

  • Israel considering earthquake-proofing important Biblical-period structures

    Israel is located in one of the world’s earthquake-prone areas, along the friction point of the African and Arabian tectonic plates.Officials in Israel are taking preventative measures to protect the country’s most important ancient sites from earthquake damage. Engineers from the University of Padua in Italy have installed sensors throughout the Tower of David, one of Jerusalem most important historical sites, to determine what sort of earthquake-proofing may be needed. Some experts opined that in the event of an earthquake, Jerusalem’s most ancient structures might actually be the city’s most dependable. “If they still stand after so many earthquakes during the last 2,000 years, they must be good structures,” one of them said.

  • Thumbnail-sized quantum cascade laser, tuning forks detect greenhouse gases

    Human activities such as agriculture, fossil fuel combustion, wastewater management, and industrial processes are increasing the amount of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. The warming impact of methane and nitrous oxide is more than 20 and 300 times, respectively, greater compared to the most prevalent greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, over a 100-year period. Methane and nitrous oxide detection is crucial to environmental considerations. Scientists use a thumbnail-sized quantum cascade laser (QCL) as well as tuning forks that cost no more than a dime to detect very small amounts of nitrous oxide and methane.

  • “Virtual earthquakes” used to forecast Los Angeles quake risk

    Stanford scientists have developed a new “virtual earthquake” technique and used it to confirm a prediction that Los Angeles would experience stronger-than-expected ground motion if a major quake occurred along the southern San Andreas Fault. The new technique capitalizes on the fact that earthquakes are not the only sources of seismic waves – rather, there is also an ambient seismic field consisting of much weaker seismic waves. The scientists devised a way to make these ambient seismic waves function as proxies for seismic waves generated by real earthquakes. By studying how the ambient waves moved underground, the researchers were able to predict the actions of much stronger waves from powerful earthquakes.

  • Texas wants to know whether fracking causes earthquakes

    Texas has about 35,000 active injection wells. About 7,000 of Texas’s injection wells are used for disposing wastewater deep underground, and some experts say these wells can cause earthquakes. In response to the several minor earthquakes which occurred in late 2013 around the Azle, Texas area, local officials are investigating whether oil and gas drilling in North Texas and the injection wells that follow after, are responsible for the quakes.

  • U.S. power plant emissions down

    Power plants that use natural gas and a new technology to squeeze more energy from the fuel release far less of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide than coal-fired power plants do, according to a new analysis. The so-called “combined cycle” natural gas power plants also release significantly less nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, which can worsen air quality.

  • Nearby Georgia basin may amplify ground shaking from quakes in Vancouver

    In Greater Vancouver, there are more than 700 12-story and taller commercial and residential buildings, and large structures — high-rise buildings, bridges, and pipelines — which are more affected by long period seismic waves, or long wavelength shaking. Researchers find that tall buildings, bridges, and other long-period structures in Greater Vancouver may experience greater shaking from large (M 6.8 +) earthquakes than previously thought due to the amplification of surface waves passing through the Georgia basin.

  • China exports air pollution, as well as consumer goods, to the U.S.

    Chinese air pollution blowing across the Pacific Ocean is often caused by the manufacturing of goods for export to the United States and Europe, according to findings of a new study. The study is the first to quantify how much of the pollution reaching the American West Coast is from the production in China of cellphones, televisions, and other consumer items imported here and elsewhere.

  • Coastal flooding in Ireland offers warning of things to come

    Flooding in Ireland and the U.K. is typically associated with heavy rainfall, but the reason for more recent coastal flooding is different. Experts say that the increases in mean sea level suggests that mean sea-level rise rather than storminess is largely contributing to the dramatic increase in the frequency and scope of coastal flooding. Major cities like Cork, Dublin, and Galway will soon feel the impact of sea-level rise, and developers are discouraged from building within 100 meters of soft shoreline.

  • Tidal energy could provide half of Scotland’s power needs

    A stretch of water off the north coast of the United Kingdom could provide enough energy to power about half of Scotland, engineers have found. Researchers have completed the most detailed study yet of how much tidal power could be generated by turbines placed in the Pentland Firth, between mainland Scotland and Orkney. They estimate 1.9 gigawatts (GW) could be available.

  • Growing threat of intense tropical cyclones hitting East Asia

    The intensity of tropical cyclones hitting East Asia has significantly increased over the past thirty years, according to a new study. The coastlines of China, Korea, and Japan in particular have experienced increasingly stronger cyclones, which the researchers have attributed to increasing sea surface temperatures and a change in atmospheric circulation patterns over the coastal seas.

  • Carbon nanotube sponge helps in water clean-up

    A carbon nanotube sponge capable of soaking up water contaminants, such as fertilizers, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals, more than three times more efficiently than previous efforts has been presented in a new study published today. The carbon nanotube (CNT) sponges, uniquely doped with sulphur, also demonstrated a high capacity to absorb oil, potentially opening up the possibility of using the material in industrial accidents and oil spill clean-ups.

  • Toxins-breathing bacteria to help industry, environment

    Preliminary tests suggest that the bacteria could be used to remove these pollutants from the wastewater and protect the surrounding ecosystems. Buried deep in the mud along the banks of a remote salt lake near Yosemite National Park are colonies of bacteria with an unusual property: they breathe a toxic metal to survive. Researchers believe that this unusual organism may one day become a useful tool for industry and environmental protection – for example, the bacteria could be used simply to clean up the water, but it might also be possible for the bacteria to help humans recover and recycle the valuable elements in the water.

  • New L.A. fault map threatens Hollywood development projects

    The state of California recently released new geological maps which reveal the presence of an active earthquake fault along the path of major developments in Hollywood. The maps established a zone of 500 feet on both sides of the fault, and state law will require new developments within the zone to conduct underground seismic testing to determine whether the fault runs beneath planned development sites. Building on top of faults is prohibited. Three prominent Hollywood developments — the Millennium Hollywood skyscraper project, the Blvd6200 development, and an apartment project on Yucca Street — are within the 500-foot fault zone.

  • Massachusetts takes steps to withstand climate change impacts

    Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts earlier this week unveiled a $50 million plan to help prepare Massachusetts for the challenges climate change poses to energy supplies, public health, transportation, and basic infrastructure in his state. A $40 million grant from the state’s Department of Energy Resources will help cities and towns develop protections around energy services, and $10 million will go toward shoring up critical coastal infrastructure and dam repair.