Environment

  • U.S. nuclear industry faces a wave of nuclear power station retirements

    A wave of U.S. nuclear power station retirements is on the horizon. The typical design life of a nuclear power plant is 40 years. There are 104 nuclear power plants in the United States, and their average age is 34 years — only a few years short of, and fast approaching, their design life. Almost 30 U.S. commercial and research reactors already have started decommissioning. A $400 million is regarded as the bargain basement price tag for cleaning up a single reactor.

  • China catches 12 times more fish beyond its waters than it reports

    Chinese fishing boats catch about $11.5 billion worth of fish from beyond their country’s own waters each year — and most of it goes unreported. Researchers estimate Chinese foreign fishing at 4.6 million tons per year, taken from the waters of at least ninety countries — including 3.1 million tons from African waters, mainly West Africa.

  • Same-day water test keeps beaches open, swimmers’ health protected

    With warm summer days at the beach on the minds of millions of winter-weary people, scientists are reporting that use of a new water quality test this year could prevent unnecessary beach closures, while better protecting the health of swimmers.

  • Large robotic jellyfish to patrol the oceans

    The Office of Naval Research wants to place self-powering, autonomous machines in waters for the purposes of surveillance and monitoring the environment, in addition to other uses such as studying aquatic life, mapping ocean floors, and monitoring ocean currents. Researchers have built a device for that purpose — a life-like, autonomous robotic jellyfish the size and weight of a grown man, 5 foot 7 inches in length and weighing 170 pounds.

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  • Water treatment plant ozone upgrade wins civil engineering award

    The Ozone Upgrade and Expansion Project of the Alvarado Water Treatment Plant in San Diego, California, was named the winner of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2013 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement (OCEA) Award. In addition to expanding plant capacity by 67 percent, the city of San Diego converted from chlorine to ozone disinfection. The incorporation of ozone enabled the city to provide not only safer water with lower levels of carcinogenic disinfection by-products, but also water that is odorless and better tasting.

  • Americans support preparation for extreme weather, coastal challenges: survey

    The challenges posed by rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms will only intensify as more Americans build along the coasts. A just-released NOAA report predicts that already crowded U.S. coastlines will become home to an additional eleven million people by 2020. A Stanford survey finds that the majority of Americans support stronger coastal development codes. Among the most popular policy solutions: stronger building codes for new structures along the coast to minimize damage, and preventing new buildings from being built near the coast.

  • Genetically engineered multi-toxin crops make insects insecticide-resistant

    The popular new strategy of planting genetically engineered crops that make two or more toxins to fend off insect pests rests on assumptions that do not always apply, researchers have discovered. Their study helps explain why one major pest is evolving resistance much faster than predicted and offers ideas for more sustainable pest control.

  • Using waste heat to capture CO2 before it goes up in smoke

    Power plants fired by coal and natural gas account for about half of the CO2 that humans add to the atmosphere each year; these power plants are prime candidates for new technology that captures CO2 before it goes up in smoke. Researchers seek to optimize CO2 removal from power plant emissions by employing waste heat. This is just one example of looking to improve upon a tried-and-true technology for CO2 capture. That technology — a two-phase chemical process — has been used for decades to remove naturally occurring CO2 from natural gas.

  • U.S. suffered $119 billion in disaster-related losses in 2012

    Natural and man-made disasters contributed to $186 billion in economic losses around the world last year. The United States took the biggest hit with $119 billion in losses. Insurance claims for weather-related losses in 2012 totaled $77 billion dollars, the third most expensive losses on record. Nine of the top ten most expensive insured loss events which occurred last year happened in the United States.

  • 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.