Environment

  • Rising seas may force coastal communities to “strategically retreat”: Corps of Engineers

    In response to Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineershas conducted a two-year study on 31,200 miles of coastal, back bay, and estuarine areas in ten states. The Corps has identified nine high-risk areas for future flooding along the North Atlantic coast. The study offers a nine-step planning process on how to identify risky areas and develop strategies to reduce the risk. It also recommends several ways communities can deal with rising sea levels, including bulkheads, seawalls, levees, elevation of homes and roads, dunes, breakwaters, living shorelines made of natural materials, groins, deployable floodwalls, and reefs. “Some communities looking out twenty years or more may consider strategic retreat and relocating people to higher ground. Each community has to evaluate which measures will work for them,” said Amy Guise, the chief of the Army Corps command center in Baltimore.

  • Missing oil from Deepwater Horizon 2010 accident found

    After 200 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the government and BP cleanup crews mysteriously had trouble locating all of it. Now, a new study finds that some six million to ten million gallons are buried in the sediment on the Gulf floor, about sixty-two miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta.

  • Reprogramming plants to withstand drought

    Crops and other plants are constantly faced with adverse environmental conditions, such as rising temperatures (2014 was the warmest year on record) and lessening fresh water supplies, which lower yield and cost farmers billions of dollars annually. Research in synthetic biology provides a strategy that has reprogrammed plants to consume less water after they are exposed to an agrochemical, opening new doors for crop improvement.

  • Prolonged heatwaves in urban areas increase significantly over past 40 years

    The world’s urban areas have experienced significant increases in heatwaves over the past forty years, according to new research published last week. These prolonged periods of extreme hot days have significantly increased in over 200 urban areas across the globe between 1973 and 2012, and have been most prominent in the most recent years on record. The study is one of the first to focus solely on the extent of extreme weather on a global scale, as well as examining disparities between urban and non-urban areas.

  • Corps of Engineers’ report details North Atlantic region’s coastal storm, flood risks

    The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week released to the public a report detailing the results of a two-year study to address coastal storm and flood risk to vulnerable populations, property, ecosystems, and infrastructure in the North Atlantic region of the United States affected by Hurricane Sandy in October, 2012. The NACCS provides tools and information, including a nine-step Coastal Storm Risk Management Framework that can be used by communities, states, tribes, and the Federal government to help identify coastal risk and develop strategies for reducing those risks.

  • Projects using federal funds to adopt siting, building codes informed by sea-level rise

    Following remarks about climate change in his recent State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama issued an executive orderlast week directing federal, state, and local government agencies, using federal funds, to adopt stricter building and siting standards to reflect scientific projections that future flooding will be more intense and frequent due to climate change. Already, post-Superstorm Sandy, FEMA and (HUD) developed updated elevation standards for New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, and Rhode Island based on climate change projections, and required any approved projects to reflect those projections or local elevation requirements if they were tougher.

  • Severe-weather warnings most effective if probability included: Study

    Risk researchers find that the public may respond best to severe weather warnings if they include a probability estimate, an important finding not only for the present but also for the longer-term future as climate change brings more frequent and severe threats. As severe storm and other disaster warnings become more frequent, new research in this field could become critical for reducing weather-related injury and death.

  • Global warming won't lead to more storms, but will make storms stronger

    A study by atmospheric physicists finds that global warming will not lead to an overall increasingly stormy atmosphere, a topic debated by scientists for decades. Instead, strong storms will become stronger while weak storms become weaker, and the cumulative result of the number of storms will remain unchanged.

  • Priorities for ocean science over next decade: Sea-level rise, geohazards

    A new report from the National Research Council identifies priority areas for ocean science research in the next decade, including the rate and impacts of sea-level rise, the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems, greater understanding of marine food webs, and better approaches for forecasting hazards such as mega-earthquakes and tsunamis. The report also recommends that the National Science Foundation rebalance its funding for ocean science research, which in recent years has shifted toward research infrastructure at the expense of core science programs.

  • Boston's aging pipes leak high levels of heat-trapping methane

    The aging system of underground pipes and tanks that delivers natural gas to Boston-area households and businesses leaks high levels of methane, with adverse economic, public health, and environmental consequences. Now a group of atmospheric scientists at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) has produced hard numbers that quantify the extent of the problem.

  • Atmospheric rivers, cloud-creating aerosol particles, and California water situation

    In the midst of the California rainy season, scientists – using aircraft, research vessel, and ground stations — are embarking on a field campaign designed to improve the understanding of the natural and human-caused phenomena that determine when and how the state gets its precipitation. They will do so by studying atmospheric rivers, meteorological events that include the famous rainmaker known as the Pineapple Express. Atmospheric rivers, which produce up to 50 percent of California’s precipitation and can transport 10-20 times the flow of the Mississippi River.

  • Sea level rise has been more rapid than previously understood: Study

    The acceleration of global sea level change from the end of the twentieth century through the last two decades has been significantly swifter than scientists thought, according to a new Harvard study. The study shows that calculations of global sea-level rise from 1900 to 1990 had been overestimated by as much as 30 percent. The report, however, confirms estimates of sea-level change since 1990, suggesting that the rate of change is increasing more rapidly than previously understood.

  • Rivers of meltwater on Greenland’s ice sheet contribute to rising sea levels

    As the largest single chunk of melting snow and ice in the world, the massive ice sheet that covers about 80 percent of Greenland is recognized as the biggest potential contributor to rising sea levels due to glacial meltwater. Until now, however, scientists’ attention has mostly focused on the ice sheet’s aquamarine lakes — bodies of meltwater that tend to abruptly drain — and on monster chunks of ice that slide into the ocean to become icebergs. A new study reveals, however, a vast network of little-understood rivers and streams flowing on top of the ice sheet that could be responsible for at least as much, if not more, sea-level rise as the other two sources combined.

  • Which fossil fuels must remain in the ground to limit global warming?

    A third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves, and over 80 percent of current coal reserves globally should remain in the ground and not be used before 2050 if global warming is to stay below the 2°C target agreed by policy makers, according to new research. The study also identifies the geographic location of existing reserves that should remain unused and so sets out the regions that stand to lose most from achieving the 2°C goal.

  • Geochemical reactions may limit effectiveness of carbon storage schemes

    New research shows that the natural reactions taking place in some of the underground reservoirs used to store carbon dioxide may prevent carbon emissions from being transported to greater depths, where it may be less likely to leak into the atmosphere. Geochemical reactions taking place in aquifers — underground layers of water-bearing porous rock — may lead to carbon dioxide being “pooled” for hundreds or even thousands of years, and may force a rethink of how these underground reservoirs are used in carbon capture and storage (CCS) schemes.