Environment

  • Global warming increasing risk of record heat: scientists

    Drought shriveled crops in the Midwest, massive wildfires raged in the West, and East Coast cities sweltered. The summer of 2012 was a season of epic proportions, especially July, the hottest month in the history of U.S. weather record keeping. As the world warms, it is likely that we will continue to see such calamitous weather. Scientists caution against trying to determine whether global warming caused any individual extreme event, but they say that the observed global warming clearly appears to have affected the likelihood of record heat.

  • Crop pests spread as Earth warms, threatening global food security

    Currently 10-16percent of global crop production is lost to pests. Losses of major crops to fungi, and fungi-like microorganisms, amount to enough to feed nearly 9 percent of today’s global population. These figures will increase further as global temperatures continue to rise, and a new study shows that global warming is resulting in the spread of crop pests toward the North and South Poles at a rate of nearly three km a year.

  • Using desalination to secure water in the desert

    Researchers are working on an innovative project to secure water supplies in desert communities which suffer from having an acute shortage of fresh water, but abundant hypersaline groundwater. Hypersaline water is even saltier than seawater.

  • Wildfires to worsen with climate change

    Air quality has vastly improved over much of the United States in the past forty years as a result of government efforts to regulate emissions. Gradual climate change may contribute in the coming years to increases in significant, disruptive events like severe storms, floods, and wildfires. A Harvard model predicts wildfire seasons by 2050 will be three weeks longer, up to twice as smoky, and will burn a wider area in the western United States. These increasing wildfires may erase some of the progress made on air quality.

  • Sandy Task Force issues sixty-nine rebuilding recommendations

    The Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, appointed by President Obama and chaired by Housing and Urban Development secretary Shaun Donovan,  last week release its much-anticipated report, in which it  lays out sixty-nine policy recommendations for improving areas affected by Hurricane Sandy last October. The report stressed the importance of investment in new and better construction to withstand increasingly dangerous storms and surges caused by climate change.

  • Jersey shore towns build protection against future storms

    Mantoloking and Brick townships in New Jersey were among the hardest hit by Superstorm Sandy. The storm also destroyed the natural dune barriers which offered a measure of protection. The two cities have decided to take action to minimize the damage of inflicted by a future storm: a $40 million project will see a steel wall —extending sixteen feet above the beach with a depth of thirty-two feet below the ground, and covered in sand to form an artificial dune — will run along the length of the two towns.

  • Fukushima radioactive plume to reach U.S. next year

    The radioactive ocean plume from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster will reach the shores of the United States within three years from the date of the incident, but is likely to be harmless, according to a new study. While atmospheric radiation was detected on the U.S. west coast within days of the incident, the radioactive particles in the ocean plume take considerably longer to travel the same distance.

  • Understanding the effects of wildfire smoke improves climate change models

    Where there is wildfire, there is smoke — a lot of it. Those vast, carbon-laden clouds released by burning biomass can play a significant role in climate change. Not much is known, however, about the different types of particles in wildfire smoke and how they affect climate. Now researchers have uncovered some of their secrets. In particular, they studied an important component of smoke that has so far been absent from most models of climate change.

  • Beach erosion by Hurricane Sandy leaves coastal communities more exposed to future storms

    Barrier islands provide natural protection against storms, shielding coastlines from rising waves and tides. Beaches and dunes on Fire Island, New York, lost more than half of their pre-storm volume during Hurricane Sandy, and the loss of so much sand increases the vulnerability of this area of coastline to future storms.

  • Remapping coastal areas damaged by Hurricane Sandy

    Hurricane Sandy caused wide-scale landscape-altering destruction, resulting in an estimated damage of $50 billion, making Sandy the second-costliest cyclone to hit the United States since 1900. “Sandy’s most fundamental lesson is that storm vulnerability is a direct consequence of the elevation of coastal communities in relation to storm waves,” says USGS Kevin Gallagher. Three federal agencies are using ships, aircraft, and satellites to measure water depth, look for submerged debris, and record altered shorelines in high priority areas from South Carolina to Maine.

  • Aquifer supplying a third of U.S. irrigated groundwater depleting quickly: study

    The High Plains Aquifer of Kansas — also called the Ogallala Aquifer — supplies 30 percent of the U.S. irrigated groundwater. New study finds that if current irrigation trends continue, 69 percent of the groundwater stored in the High Plains Aquifer will be depleted in fifty years.

  • Post-Sandy infrastructure must be more resilient: Sandy Task Force

    The task force appointed by President Barack Obama, charged with developing a strategy for rebuilding areas damaged by Superstorm Sandy, has urged coastal communities to recognize that owing to climate change, storms are going to be more frequent and more destructive, and that floods are going to occur more frequently. The best way to prepare for the more extreme weather ahead is to build a more robust and resilient infrastructure that can withstand the more demanding challenges.

  • Long-term radiation effects: Chernobyl’s lessons for Fukushima

    The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster spread significant radioactive contamination over more than 3,500 square miles of the Japanese mainland in the spring of 2011. Now several recently published studies of Chernobyl are bringing a new focus on just how extensive the long-term effects on Japanese wildlife might be.

  • Predicting when lightning will strike

    When something is unlikely to happen, people often say that there is a greater chance of being struck by lightning. The fact is, however, that lightning does strike, and is one of the leading weather-related causes of death and injury. Furthermore, important infrastructure including airports, hospitals, sports stadiums, and power lines can often be affected by lighting. Electronic components are particularly vulnerable to lightning-induced transient voltages. Lightning is estimated to cause up to 16 percent of forest fires in the EU, costing 70 million euros in mitigation efforts a year. The EU-funded LOLIGHT (Lightning Mapping and Supercell Tracking System) project sought to address this by developing a low-cost system capable of detecting lightning to an accuracy of 100 meters.

  • New levee system offers New Orleans better protection

    With the busiest period of the 2013 hurricane season approaching metro New Orleans, the area is ready to face the challenge with a flood control system worth about $14.5 billion. The network of levees, floodwalls, and pumps, its designers say, should nearly eliminate the risk of flooding from most hurricanes, and substantially reduces flooding from hurricanes the size of 2005 Hurricane Katrina.