Environment

  • Winners and losers in California’s water crisis

    A recent article highlights the widening gap of inequality between the wealthy and the poor of California, specifically in relation to the State’s current drought. The authors discuss what has caused these inequalities to expand — the outdated and unsupervised water regulations still currently used, combined with decentralized local control means using and sourcing water comes down to the simple matter of what people can and cannot afford.

  • Debate in North Carolina over sea-level rise continues

    Climate change skeptics in the North Carolina legislature revised the forecast horizon of the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission (CRC), a panel of scientific and engineering experts set up by the state government to advised state agencies on coastal issues, from ninety years to thirty years. Infrastructure experts said limiting forecasts to thirty years does not make sense because large infrastructure projects are designed to last at least two or three times that, and hence must take into account conditions which will likely prevail well into the future. Local communities in the state say that since, in their own infrastructure planning, they are not bound by arbitrary limits imposed on state agencies by the legislature, they take a longer view of emerging coastal hazards – and plan accordingly.

  • New EPA rules extend Clean Water Act protection to more streams, wetlands

    Aiming to clarify the ambiguities of the federal Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week issued a new ruling which take a tougher approach to the protection of streams and wetlands which support wildlife habitats and filter drinking water supplies. EPA officials have warned that up to 60 percent of the streams and millions of acres of wetlands in the United States are not protected under current law. The new regulations would bring these streams and wetlands under the protection of the Clean Water Act.

  • Global climate on verge of multi-decadal change

    A new study suggests that the global climate is on the verge of broad-scale change that could last for a number of decades. The change to the new set of climatic conditions is associated with a cooling of the Atlantic, and is likely to bring drier summers in Britain and Ireland, accelerated sea-level rise along the northeast coast of the United States, and drought in the developing countries of the Sahel region.

  • Warming amplifying adverse effects of California’s historic drought

    Although record low precipitation has been the main driver of one of the worst droughts in California history, abnormally high temperatures have also played an important role in, according to a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey and university partners. Experiments with a hydrologic model for the period October 2013-September 2014 showed that if the air temperatures had been cooler, similar to the 1916-2012 average, there would have been an 86 percent chance that the winter snowpack would have been greater, the spring-summer runoff higher, and the spring-summer soil moisture deficits smaller.

  • Assessing climate change vulnerability in Georgia

    New research from the University of Georgia assesses the communities in the state most vulnerable to changes in temperature and precipitation. The study examines not only the sensitivity and susceptibility of populations that are vulnerable to flooding along the coast, but also the social vulnerability of inland populations in Georgia. The research presents a vulnerability assessment of Georgia based on county-level statistics from 1975 to 2012.

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  • Himalayas glaciers volume to decline dramatically, affecting region’s water supply

    Glaciers in High Mountain Asia, a region that includes the Himalayas, contain the largest volume of ice outside the polar regions. If greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise, glaciers in the Everest region of the Himalayas could experience dramatic change in the decades to come – and may decline by between 70 percent and 99 percent by 2100. Changes in glacier volume can impact the availability of water, with consequences for agriculture and hydropower generation. While increased glacier melt initially increases water flows, ongoing retreat leads to reduced meltwater from the glaciers during the warmer months. “The signal of future glacier change in the region is clear: continued and possibly accelerated mass loss from glaciers is likely given the projected increase in temperatures,” says a researcher.

  • California group blames immigrants for state’s historic drought

    Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), an anti-immigration environmentalist group, has made a splash with provocative advertisements which feature a young child asking, “If Californians are having fewer children, why isn’t there enough water?” The ad is part of a broader media campaign by the organization which blames immigrant populations for the historic drought in the state. CAPS is calling for stricter enforcement of immigration laws on environmental grounds: it argues that the state’s natural resources cannot sustain the high levels immigration-driven population growth of recent decades. Drought experts and climatologists dismiss CAPS’s claims about the connection between immigration and drought as laughable.

  • “Echo chambers” fuel climate change debate: Study

    A new study demonstrates that the highly contentious debate on climate change is fueled in part by how information flows throughout policy networks. The researchers found that “echo chambers” — social network structures in which individuals with the same viewpoint share information with each other — play a significant role in climate policy communication. The researchers point out that the debate on climate change is not indicative of inconclusive science. Rather, the debate is illustrative of how echo chambers influence information flows in policy networks. “Our research underscores how important it is for people on both sides of the climate debate to be careful about where they get their information. If their sources are limited to those that repeat and amplify a single perspective, they can’t be certain about the reliability or objectivity of their information,” says one of the authors.

  • Drought, heat to affect U.S. West's power grid

    Expected increases in extreme heat and drought will bring changes in precipitation, air and water temperatures, air density and humidity, scientists say. These changing conditions could significantly constrain the energy generation capacity of power plants — unless steps are taken to upgrade systems and technologies to withstand the effects of a generally hotter and drier climate. Power providers should invest in more resilient renewable energy sources and consider local climate constraints when selecting sites for new generation facilities, the researchers say.

  • How climate change is making California’s epic drought worse

    California is undergoing a record-setting drought that began in 2012, the worst in at least 1,200 years. California and other southwestern states have suffered through multi-year droughts in the past, but how does climate change figure into what’s happening now? Can scientists separate the effect of rising greenhouse gas levels on the current drought from other factors? Detecting and attributing observed or projected impacts to man-caused climate change is not an easy task. But there is some supporting evidence from improving numerical climate models and the record of several diverse meteorological and hydrological events already happening, including heat waves, flooding, or droughts. Scientists can run climate model experiments that include only natural variability and then include manmade factors, such as greenhouse gases. These tools serve to highlight and distinguish the dominant mechanisms responsible for particular air circulation characteristics. These climate model simulations show that the extreme and persistent circulation patterns that have caused droughts on the West Coast this century are due to anthropogenic external forces, not natural causes. Studies suggest that climate change might give rise to a new climate regime, one in which the years of low precipitation will be accompanied by warm conditions, creating the aforementioned “warm drought.”

  • How will California cities meet water-rationing mandates? Universities have some ideas

    California is in the fourth year of an historic drought. It’s now so bad that state water authorities canceled the last monthly measurement of the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. There wasn’t enough snow to even bother trying. The situation compelled Governor Jerry Brown to impose emergency water-conservation measures that will require a 25 percent cut in urban water use over the next year. The water footprint of the state’s higher education system is substantial: there are ten University of California campuses, twenty-three California State University campuses, and 112 California community colleges. Yet the university system is putting in place a number of measures to conserve water. Municipalities, too, will need to implement similar measures to meet the mandates and adapt to this prolonged drought.

  • How best to adapt to the U.S. water shortage?

    The water crisis in the western United States — most notably in California and Washington — may be the most severe and most publicized, but other threats to the nation’s water supply loom, says a water expert. “We have settled in places and undertaken industrial and agricultural activities largely based on water availability,” he says. “When that availability changes, we must adapt. If the change is rather rapid, we often face a crisis.”

  • Climate change changing intensity, frequency of hurricanes

    Climate change may be the driving force behind fewer, yet more powerful hurricanes and tropical storms. Hurricanes can form when ocean waters are 79 degrees Fahrenheit or more. As the warm water evaporates, it provides the energy a storm needs to become a hurricane. Higher temperatures mean higher levels of energy, which would ultimately affect wind speed.

  • U.S. West's power grid must be “climate-proofed” to lessen risks of power disruption

    Electricity generation and distribution infrastructure in the Western United States must be “climate-proofed” to diminish the risk of future power shortages, according to researchers. Expected increases in extreme heat and drought events will bring changes in precipitation, air and water temperatures, air density, and humidity. the changing conditions could significantly constrain the energy-generation capacity of power plants — unless steps are taken to upgrade systems and technologies to withstand the effects of a generally hotter and drier climate.