Environment

  • Solar super-storms “inevitable”: Scientists

    Solar storms are caused by violent eruptions on the surface of the Sun and are accompanied by coronal mass ejections (CME). The largest ever solar super-storm on record occurred in 1859 and is known as the Carrington Event: This massive CME released about 1,022 kJ of energy — the equivalent to ten billion Hiroshima bombs exploding at the same time — and hurled around a trillion kilograms of charged particles towards the Earth at speeds of up to 3,000 km/s. These types of events are not just a threat, but inevitable. NASA scientists have predicted that the Earth is in the path of a Carrington-level event every 150 years on average — which means that we are currently five years overdue — and that the likelihood of one occurring in the next decade is as high as 12 percent.

  • Tornado strength, frequency linked to climate change

    New research shows that climate change may be playing a key role in the strength and frequency of tornadoes hitting the United States. Though tornadoes are forming fewer days per year, they are forming at a greater density and strength than ever before. “We may be less threatened by tornadoes on a day-to-day basis, but when they do come, they come like there’s no tomorrow,” one of the researchers said.

  • Key U.S. coastal areas bracing for greater sea level rise challenges

    While climate change-related sea level rise is predicted to impact much of the country — whether directly or indirectly — over the next several decades, certain parts of the nation’s coasts are expecting to deal with more unique and intensive challenges.

  • N.C. science panel begins updating sea level rise report

    North Carolina officials announced last week that the state-appointed science panel supported by the Coastal Resources Commission(CRC) has begun updating a controversial 2010 sea-level rise report. The CRC oversees development in North Carolina’s twenty coastal counties. In May, the CRC votedto narrow the scope of the pending report to reflect the effects of sea-level rise for the next thirty-years, as opposed to the original timeframe of 100 years in the 2010 report. “I think the concept of doing it for 30 years will add credibility to the study,” Frank Gorham, the CRC’s chairman, said last Thursday. “People can think in 30-year timeframes.”

  • National vision needed to achieve comprehensive risk reduction along Atlantic, Gulf coasts

    A national vision for coastal risk management that includes a long-term view, regional solutions, and recognition of the full array of economic, social, environmental, and safety benefits that come from risk management is needed to reduce the impacts of natural disasters along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States, says a new report. To support this vision, a national coastal risk assessment is needed to identify coastal areas that face the greatest threats and are high priorities for risk-reduction efforts.

  • Using natural, engineering solutions to help U.K. address extreme weather events

    The United Kingdom is seeing increased seasonal flood damage not only from coastal and river surges, but from rising groundwater as well. The scale and unpredictability of these events in recent years, while devastating, can also serve as a helpful mirror of future climate change and its predicted effects in the longer term. Experts say that natural solutions, such as reforestation, to improve flood defenses and attempts to keep water in place may provide both short and long term solutions.

  • Drought-driven use of underground water threatens water supply of western U.S.

    Scientists find that more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. The Colorado River is the only major river in the southwest part of the United States. Its basin supplies water to about forty million people in seven states, as well as irrigating roughly four million acres of farmland. Monthly measurements in the change in water mass from December 2004 to November 2013 revealed the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater, almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total — about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers) — was from groundwater. The extent of groundwater loss may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought.

  • Extensive corrosion found at chemical tanks of W.Va. site which contaminated region

    Investigators by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) have reported that they detected significant corrosion in MCHM chemical storage tanks at the Freedom Industries site responsible for a 9 January contamination of the Elk River which has impacted over 300,000 residents of the area.

  • Updating information about U.S. regional earthquake hazards

    The USGS recently updated their U.S. National Seismic Hazard Maps, which reflect the best and most current understanding of where future earthquakes will occur, how often they will occur, and how hard the ground will likely shake as a result. While all states have some potential for earthquakes, 42 of the 50 states have a reasonable chance of experiencing damaging ground shaking from an earthquake in fifty years (the typical lifetime of a building). Scientists also conclude that sixteen states have a relatively high likelihood of experiencing damaging ground shaking. These states have historically experienced earthquakes with a magnitude 6 or greater. To help make the best decisions to protect communities from earthquakes, new USGS maps display how intense ground shaking could be across the nation.

  • Groundwater reservoirs are being depleted at an increasing rate

    The rate at which the Earth’s groundwater reservoirs are being depleted is constantly increasing. Annual groundwater depletion during the first decade of this century was twice as high as it was between 1960 and 2000. India, the USA, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and China are the countries with the highest rates of groundwater depletion. About 15 percent of global groundwater consumption is not sustainable, meaning that it comes from non-renewable groundwater resources. The increased use of groundwater for irrigation also results in a rise in sea levels, with roughly one tenth of the total sea level rise during the period from 2000 to 2009 due to groundwater depletion.

  • Debate in Texas over fossil fuel-based economic growth

    Texas officials tout the state’s economic growth, which is due in part to the state’s energy sector. That same energy sector puts Texas’ economy at risk in decades to come, with scientists saying that this economic growth comes at a high cost.State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, who was appointed by then-Governor George W. Bush, notes that the state is projected to be several degrees warmer and experience longer and more severe droughts. The see along portions of the state’s 367-mile Gulf Coast has already risen up to one foot in the past century.

  • Silicon Valley braces for floods, storm surges caused by sea level rise

    A new analysis found that $36.5 billion in property and at least 145,000 California residents could be directly affected in the next thirty years from flooding caused by sea level rise. San Mateo County, home to major corporations including Facebook, Oracle, and Genentechin Palo Alto, and the low-income population of East Palo Alto, would be the most affected.

  • The price tag of the 2° climate target

    Addressing climate change will require substantial new investment in low-carbon energy and energy efficiency — but no more than what is currently spent on today’s fossil-dominated energy system. To limit climate change to 2° Celsius, low-carbon energy options will need additional investments of about $800 billion a year globally from now to mid-century, according to a new study, but much of that capital, however, could come from shifting subsidies and investments away from fossil fuels and associated technologies. Worldwide, fossil subsidies currently amount to around $500 billion per year.

  • Tornado threat in Tornado Alley can be eliminated by building walls: scientists

    In the United States, most devastating tornadoes occur in Tornado Alley, which is a strip of land between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains, including most American Midwest states. In 2013, there were 811 confirmed tornadoes in the United States, 57 in Europe, and 3 in China. Among 811 tornadoes in the United States, most, especially the most devastating ones, occurred in Tornado Alley. Scientists say that building three 300 meter high and 50 meter wide walls, at the cost of about $160 million each — the first close to the northern boundary of the Tornado Alley, maybe in North Dakota; the second one in the middle, maybe in the middle of Oklahoma and going to east; the third one in the south of Texas and Louisiana – would significantly reduce, if not eliminate altogether, the threat of devastating tornadoes in Tornado Alley.

  • N.C. “rolling” 30-year sea level rise report gaining support from both sides

    In 2010, coastal developers and Republican legislators in North Carolina were alarmed when a state science panel warned that the Atlantic Ocean is expected to increase by thirty-nine inches along the state’s shores by the end of the century. The state legislature soon ordered a four-year moratorium on official sea-level predictions and gave the Coastal Resources Commission(CRC) guidelines for developing a new official state forecast. In May, Frank Gorham III, chairman of the commission, announced that the next forecast will only predict sea-level rise for the next thirty years, a time span during which model-based predictions about sea level rise along the North Carolina coast – about eight inches — are largely accepted by both sides to the climate change debate. Gorham stresses, however, that he wants a “rolling” 30-year forecast to be updated every five years.