Environment

  • Sea level rise, not Hurricane Sandy impacts, main cause of subsequent East Coast storm flooding

    Flooding in coastal areas bordering Great South Bay, New York, and Barnegat Bay, New Jersey caused by winter storms that occurred following Hurricane Sandy was not influenced by changes Sandy made to barrier islands or other bay features, according to a new U.S. Geological Survey study. “While the existing barrier island and inlet system shield the mainland to a great extent from the daily tides, most of the storm surge, and all long-term changes in water level, such as those resulting from sea level rise, reach the mainland,” say the study’s authors.

  • Extreme weather events threaten U.S. national landmarks

    Rising seas, floods, and wildfires are threatening the U.S. most cherished historic sites — from Ellis Island to the Everglades, Cape Canaveral to California’s César Chávez National Monument. Scientists say that today these sites face an uncertain future in a world of rising sea levels, more frequent wildfires, increased flooding, and other damaging effects of climate change. At some sites — such as Liberty and Ellis Islands and Cape Hatteras — steps have already been taken to prepare for these growing climate risks. At many other sites, such efforts have not yet begun.

  • Extreme weather exposes the toxic legacy of an industrial past

    The increase in the number and intensity of extreme weather events in the United States carries with it yet another, more insidious danger: it forces to the surface toxic lead from long-shuttered smelters. Lead smelters had mostly closed down in the United States by the 1980s, but they left behind millions of tons of toxic waste. One example: In 2011, Joplin, Missouri suffered a devastating tornado which killed 158 people and flattened much of the city. Decades of lead processing in the Joplin area had created about 150 million tons of toxic wastes, with about 9 million tons still remaining after a federal Superfund cleanup. The 2011 tornado forced some of the buried lead to the surface, forcing Joplin to spend $3.5 million so far on lead clean up. The city now requires builders to test for lead, and clean up any traces, before beginning construction.

  • Canada is not doing enough to prepare for, cope with natural, man-made disasters

    The 2013 Alberta floods cost more than $6 billion, making it the worst weather disaster in Canada’s history. Before 1990, only three Canadian disasters exceeded $500 million, but in the past ten years alone nine disasters have exceeded that amount. Disaster management experts said that while it may be understandable that corporate and municipal budgets for disaster training and preparations have been reduced during the economic slowdown, corporate and government leaders in Canada must consider how such reductions would impact the ability of communities to build adequately resilience systems against potential natural and manmade disasters.

  • Rising sea levels will be too much, too fast for Florida

    The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published its assessment of sea level rise in 2012 as part of the National Climate Assessment. Including estimates based on limited and maximum melt of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, it anticipated a raise of 4.1 to 6.6ft (1.25 to 2m) by 2100, reaching 2ft (0.6m) by around 2050 and 3ft (0.9m) by around 2075. This means that by the middle of this century most of the barrier islands of south Florida and the world will be abandoned and the people relocated, while low areas such as Sweetwater and Hialeah bordering the Everglades will be frequently flooded and increasingly difficult places to live. Florida will start to lose its freshwater resources, its infrastructure will begin to fail, and the risk of catastrophic storm surges and hurricane flooding will increase. Florida counties should be planning for their future to determine at what point the costs of maintaining functional infrastructure, insurance, and human health and safety becomes economically impossible. Already, there are areas and properties that will become unlivable within a 30-year mortgage cycle.

  • Turning manure into clean water

    Imagine something that can turn cow manure into clean water, extract nutrients from that water to serve as fertilizer, and help solve the ever-present agricultural problem of manure management. Technology is under development and near commercialization that can do all of that. While turning the manure into clean water makes environmental sense, the researchers are also looking into how this can make good financial sense for farmers. In some cases it could have a significant impact on the long-term viability of the farm.

  • Algae biofuel can help meet world energy demand

    Microalgae-based biofuel not only has the potential to quench a sizable chunk of the world’s energy demands, researchers say. Microalgae produces much higher yields of fuel-producing biomass than other traditional fuel feedstocks and it does not compete with food crops. The researchers say that algae yields about 2,500 gallons of biofuel per acre per year. In contrast, soybeans yield approximately forty-eight gallons; corn about eighteen gallons.

  • Dramatic drop in Central Valley wintertime fog threatens California’s agricultural industry

    California’s winter tule fog — hated by drivers, but needed by fruit and nut trees — has declined dramatically over the past three decades, raising a red flag for the state’s multibillion dollar agricultural industry, according to researchers at UC Berkeley. Many crops go through a necessary winter dormant period brought on and maintained by colder temperatures. Tule fog, a thick ground fog that descends upon the state’s Central Valley between late fall and early spring, helps contribute to this winter chill. The findings have implications for the entire country since many of these California crops account for 95 percent of U.S. production.

  • Power plant emission detection by satellites verified

    Air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from two coal-fired power plants in the Four Corners area of northwest New Mexico, the largest point source of pollution in America, were measured remotely by a Los Alamos National Laboratory team. The study is the first to show that space-based techniques can successfully verify international regulations on fossil energy emissions.

  • Pumping Central Valley’s ground water increases number of California’s earthquakes

    Scientists have offered a new theory explaining the steady increase in the number of small earthquakes in parts of Central California. They say that the quakes are partly due to the pumping of groundwater. Groundwater is heavy, and depresses the Earth’s upper crust like a weight. Without that weight, the earth springs upward and the change in pressure can trigger more small earthquakes.

  • Abundant shale gas, by itself, not likely to alter climate projections

    While natural gas can reduce greenhouse emissions when it is substituted for higher-emission energy sources, abundant shale gas is not likely substantially to alter total emissions without policies targeted at greenhouse gas reduction, a new study finds. If natural gas is abundant and less expensive, it will encourage greater natural gas consumption and less of fuels such as coal, renewables and nuclear power. The net effect on the climate will depend on whether the greenhouse emissions from natural gas — including carbon dioxide and methane — are lower or higher than emissions avoided by reducing the use of those other energy sources.

  • Colorado tries to increase safety of urban development in wildfire-prone areas

    Colorado continues to deal with the challenge of building new urban developments while reducing wildfire risks. There are currently 556,000 houses built in burn zones around the state, and the demand for water to sustain residents and industries continue to rise. A new study predicts that development will occupy 2.1 million acres in wildfire-prone forests by 2030, an increase from one million acres today — just as wildfires continue to burn roughly 900,000 acres a year since 2000, compared with just 200,000 acres a year in the 1990s.

  • Limiting methane emissions would more quickly affect climate than limiting CO2

    When discussing climate change, scientists point to “radiative forcing,” a measure of trapped heat in Earth’s atmosphere from man-made greenhouse gases. The current role of methane looms large, they say, contributing over 40 percent of current radiative forcing from all greenhouse gases. The role of methane as a driver of global warming is even more critical than this 40 percent value might indicate, they note, since the climate system responds much more quickly to reducing methane than to reducing carbon dioxide. The implication is that while it is true that in order to slow, or even reverse, global warming we must limit emissions of both carbon dioxide and methane, it makes more sense to concentrate now on limiting methane emissions because reducing methane emissions would buy society some critical decades of lower temperatures.

  • Coral reefs offer valuable protection for coastal infrastructure

    Growing natural hazards from coastal storms, flooding, and rising sea levels are leading to major investments worldwide in coastal defense structures such as seawalls and breakwaters. A new study shows that coral reefs can provide risk reduction benefits comparable to artificial defenses, and reef restoration and enhancement is a cost-effective alternative to manmade structures. Restoring coral reefs as a way to protect coastal infrastructure is also cheaper: the typical price for a tropical breakwater project is $197 million, compared with $129 million for restoring a reef.

  • Loss of West Antarctic glacier unstoppable, contributing significantly to sea level rise

    A rapidly melting section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appears to be in irreversible decline, with nothing to stop the entire glacial basin from disappearing into the sea, according to researchers at UC Irvine and NASA. The new study presents multiple lines of evidence — incorporating forty years of observations — that six massive glaciers in the Amundsen Sea sector “have passed the point of no return.” The volume of melted ice would be enough to raise global sea level by four feet.