Environment

  • Suppressing naturally occurring blazes increases wildfire risk

    According to the National Interagency Fire Center, 9.3 million U.S. acres burned in wildfires in 2012 compared with 3.57 million acres affected in 2001 and 2.95 million in 1991. One reason for the increase in the number of acres consumed by wildfires is the U.S. government’s policy of suppressing of naturally occurring blazes. Researchers say that this policy can have unintended consequences, including making wildfires more severe.

  • More than 10,000 pesticides approved by EPA without rigorous review

    Congress allowed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use what is called “conditional registration” to approve pesticides deemed especially beneficial for food production – even before all the toxicity tests have been completed. Congress intended conditional registration to be used only sparingly, but the EPS has been using the loophole in a wholesale fashion to approve 65 percent – or more than 10,000 – of the 16,000 pesticides submitted to it for approval. The EPA cannot easily track the history of conditionally approved pesticides to determine whether required toxicity data was submitted, whether that caused a dangerous use of a pesticide to be cancelled, or whether the uses or restrictions should be modified based in such data.

  • Focusing on climate’s impact on fisheries leads to misguided conclusions

    In the early 1940s, California fishermen hauled in a historic bounty of sardine at a time that set the backdrop for John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row. By the end of the decade, however, the nets came up empty and the fishery collapsed. Where did they all go? A new study argues that the problem in seeking answers to this – and similar – questions lies in the fact that researchers typically try to find the answers by focusing on one factor at a time. What is the impact of climate on sardines? What is the effect of overfishing on sardines? Focusing on single variables in isolation can lead to misguided conclusions, the authors of the study say. The authors argue that climate, human actions, and ecosystem fluctuations combine to influence sardine and other species populations, and therefore such factors should not be evaluated independently.

  • Understanding the threat of invasive species

    Catching rides on cargo ships and fishing boats, many invasive species are now covering the U.S. shorelines and compromising the existence of American native marine life. Once invasive species arrive in their new location, they begin multiplying, and in some cases, overpowering the local marine life.Researchers examine what factors allow some invasive species to survive in their new environments and others to fail.

  • NOAA predicts drought, flooding, warm weather for spring

    The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) yesterday issued the three-month U.S. Spring Outlook, saying Americans should brace themselves for the following: above-average temperatures across much of the continental United States, including drought-stricken areas of Texas, the Southwest, and the Great Plains. These areas, and Florida, will see little drought relief owing to below- average spring precipitation. River flooding is likely to be worse than last year across the country.

  • Improved weather, climate predictions strengthen the U.S. economy

    The economic costs of damaging weather events have an immense and increasing impact on the U.S. economy. These costs could be anticipated and mitigated by improved weather and climate predictions, say a range of experts in the public and private sectors. These experts will meet in early April in an American Meteorological Society event to discuss the economic benefits of how environmental forecast, prediction, and observation programs and services strengthen the U.S. economy.

  • New technology for carbon-dioxide capture, clean coal reaches milestone

    An innovative new process which releases the energy in coal without burning — while capturing carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas — has passed a milestone on the route to possible commercial use.

  • Loss of summer rains lead to long droughts in southwest U.S.

    Long-term droughts in southwestern North America often mean failure of both winter and summer rains, according to new research. The finding contradicts a commonly held belief regarding the region — that a dry winter rainy season is generally followed by a wet summer season, and vice versa. In fact, when severe, decades-long droughts have struck the area in centuries past, both winter and summer rains generally were sparse year after year.

  • Does warmer climate mean stormier, or only wetter, weather?

    Many scientists argue that the climate has warmed since people began to release massive amounts greenhouse gases to the atmosphere during the Industrial Revolution. These scientists, however, are less sure that warming climate creates stormier weather. The reason: nobody has done the quantitative analysis needed to show this is indeed happening. Until now.

  • Petroleum use, greenhouse gas emissions of U.S. automobiles could drop 80 percent by 2050

    A new National Research Council study finds that by the year 2050, the United States may be able to reduce petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent for light-duty vehicles — cars and small trucks — via a combination of more efficient vehicles; the use of alternative fuels like biofuels, electricity, and hydrogen; and strong government policies to overcome high costs and influence consumer choices.

  • “Dirty blizzard” accounts for missing Deepwater Horizon oil

    The Deepwater Horizon disaster spilled more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Microbes likely processed most of the oil within months of the spill, but these microbes do not account for all of the spilled oil. Scientists have now found what happened to the oil not processed by microbes: the oil acted as a catalyst for plankton and other surface materials to clump together and fall to the sea floor in a massive sedimentation event that researchers are calling a “dirty blizzard.” The oily sediments deposited on the sea floor could cause significant damage to ecosystems and may affect commercial fisheries in the future.

  • 2012 economic losses from disasters set new record at $138 billion

    The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) reported that for the first time in history, the world has experienced three consecutive years in which annual economic losses have exceeded $100 billion. The losses are the result of an enormous increase in exposure of industrial assets and private property to extreme disaster events.

  • Urgent need to find asteroids that threaten Earth: expert

    The impact from a 100-meter long asteroid hitting Earth would be equal to detonating a 100-megaton hydrogen bomb. Several large asteroids have zipped dangerously close to Earth in the past month. There are millions of these near-Earth-orbit (NEOs) asteroids longer than 100 meters. Because they are relatively small, and because they spend so much time far from Earth, scientists tend to find them only by chance.

  • Russia embarking on a program to thwart asteroid threat

    Officials from Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear agency, and from Russia’s space agency, yesterday (Tuesday) told a special conference at the Russian Federation Council, the Russian upper house, that Russia was embarking on an ambitious program – estimated to cost about $2 billion – to shield Russia from the threat of asteroids and meteors. The first steps will be taken by the end of the year, but the comprehensive set of measures will not be available until 2018-20. The officials discussed various possible measures, ranging from planting beacon transmitters on asteroids to megaton-sized nuclear strikes to destroy asteroid or divert them from a course which would lead to a collision with the Earth.

  • New radioactive waste repackaging facility in Los Alamos

    The Los Alamos National Laboratory has brought a third waste repackaging facility online to increase its capability to process nuclear waste for permanent disposal. The box line facility is largest of its kind ever built.