Environment

  • More assessment of dispersants used in response to oil spills needed

    Chemical dispersants are widely used in emergency responses to oil spills in marine environments as a means of stimulating microbial degradation of oil. After the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, dispersants were applied to the sea surface and deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the latter of which was unprecedented. S new study argues for further in-depth assessments of the impacts of dispersants on microorganisms to guide their use in response to future oil spills.

  • Marshes, reefs, beaches can bolster coastal resilience: NOAA

    Coastal erosion, storms, and flooding can reshape the shoreline and threaten coastal property. With approximately 350,000 houses, business, bridges, and other structures located within 500 feet of the U.S. shoreline, erosion is a problem many U.S. coastal communities are addressing. Coastal flooding caused by extreme weather events and sea level rise is of growing global concern. In 2012, just two coastal extreme weather events caused $68 billion in damages — Sandy accounted for $65 billions, and Hurricane Isaac for $3 billion. The resilience of U.S. coastal communities to storms, flooding, erosion, and other threats can be strengthened when they are protected by natural infrastructure such as marshes, reefs, and beaches, or with hybrid approaches, such as a “living shoreline” — a combination of natural habitat and built infrastructure, according to a new NOAA study.

  • Major food companies must adapt to growing global water risks

    Escalating water competition, combined with weak government regulations, increasing water pollution, and worsening climate change impacts, is creating unprecedented water security risks for the food industry. In California, an estimated half-million acres of farmland have already been fallowed by a prolonged drought, causing more than $1 billion of economic losses for the agriculture sector. Major U.S. food companies need to adopt far stronger practices to use limited global water resources more efficiently, according to a new report. The report ranks the U.S. thirty-seven largest food companies on how effectively they are managing precious freshwater supplies. While a relatively small number of firms are taking broad actions to manage water risks in their operations and supply chains — Unilever, Coca-Cola, Nestlé, PepsiCo, General Mills, and Kellogg, among those — most have a long way to go in using water more sustainably, the report concludes.

  • Sea level rise accelerated over the past two decades, research finds

    Sea level rise sped up over the last two decades rather than slowing down as previously thought, according to new research. The research corrects other studies which relied on records from tide gauges and satellites, records which have shown sea level rise to be slowing slightly over the past twenty years. This slowing down surprised scientists: As the ice sheets of West Antarctica and Greenland melt and send huge amounts of water into the ocean, climate models predicted that sea level rise would accelerate, not slow down. The new research, in which researchers used data sets generated by both tidal gauges and altimetric satellites, found, however, that the record of sea level rise during the early 1990s was too high. When adjustments are made for the initial error, the rate of sea level rise is not slowing down but accelerating, and the IPCC climate modelling proves right.

  • Florida coastal communities’ infrastructure officials say state government ignores sea level rise

    Water officials serving communities along Florida’s 1,200-mile coastline say the state government has rejected the scientific consensus on man-made climate change. These officials are worried that unprecedented flood levels will erode their buildings, push seawater into drinking water wells, and overburden aging flood-control systems. Despite warnings from water and climate experts about risks to Florida’s cities and drinking water, deniers and skeptics of climate change science have suppressed efforts at all levels of state government to address these risks.

  • Bill allowing Border Patrol activity within 100 miles of border unnecessary, damaging: Environmentalists

    The U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last Wednesday approved S.750, a bill which would waive all laws for any Border Patrol activity within 100 miles of Arizona’s border with Mexico. Environmental organizations say that the bill, marketed as an improvement for Border Patrol’s access to public lands, is more about overreach and overkill than access, and will result in more harm to U.S. public lands, including those far from the border.

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  • São Paulo water crisis shows the failure of public-private partnerships

    São Paulo’s ongoing water crisis has left many of the city’s twenty million or more residents without tap water for days on end. Brazil’s largest metropolis is into its third month of water rationing, and some citizens have even taken to drilling through their basements to reach groundwater. Most commentators agree that the crisis is to blame on multiple factors, but few have questioned the role of the water company in charge: Sabesp. Just like the “natural monopolies” enjoyed by water companies in the United Kingdom, Sabesp has a publicly guaranteed monopoly, yet its profits are part-privatized — earlier this year it paid out R$252 million (US$83 million) in dividends. As is the case with other private companies, when deciding whether to make the necessary investments to prepare for possible water shortages, Sabesp has had to choose whether to safeguard the public supply or increase the value of its shares. As a result, the most essential resource of all has now become a struggle in São Paulo. Responsibility for this crisis lies with Sabesp and two decades of running water supply as a for-profit service. It is a failure of public-private partnership. As climate change and other environmental factors make water crises more likely, we better rethink the way water is managed worldwide.

  • Depletion of soil accelerates, putting human security at risk: Scientists

    Steadily and alarmingly, humans have been depleting Earth’s soil resources faster than the nutrients can be replenished. If this trajectory does not change, soil erosion, combined with the effects of climate change, will present a huge risk to global food security over the next century, warns a review paper authored by some of the top soil scientists in the country. The paper singles out farming, which accelerates erosion and nutrient removal, as the primary game changer in soil health.

  • Water agencies in Sacramento, Calif. area want state water restrictions rewritten to reflect climate

    Last month, Governor Jerry Brown ordered California’s water agencies to reduce potable urban water use by 25 percent on average over 2013 levels by 28 February 2016. Leaders of Sacramento-area water agencies are now calling for a rewrite of the proposed framework to reflect climate. They argue that the framework is unfair because inland communities require far more water to achieve the same water functions as coastal communities. They also say the region is being punished for its dry heat, while coastal communities are rewarded for their moderate climate.

  • Warm ocean hot spots caused mid-1930s U.S. Dust Bowl

    The unusually hot summers of 1934 and 1936 broke heat records that still stand today. They were part of the devastating dust bowl decade in the United States when massive dust storms traveled as far as New York, Boston, and Atlanta, covering the decks of ships with silt 450 km off the east coast. Two ocean hot spots have been found to be the potential drivers of these hot 1934 and 1936 summers in the central United States, knowledge that may help predict future calamities.

  • Young students compete at the Sea Level Measurement Device Design competition

    Global warming is bringing about a rise in the mean sea level, and this increases the risk of coastal flooding brought by storm surges during the passage of tropical cyclones. Two-hundred young students – from 4th grade to junior high — from twenty-five primary, secondary, and international schools designed and produced sea level measurement devices to compete for various prizes in the Sea Level Measurement Device Design Competition held last Sunday at the University of Hong Kong.

  • Nano-coated mesh captures oil but lets water through

    The unassuming piece of stainless steel mesh does not look like a very big deal, but it could make a big difference for future environmental cleanups. Water passes through the mesh but oil does not, thanks to a nearly invisible oil-repelling coating on its surface. In tests, researchers mixed water with oil and poured the mixture onto the mesh. The water filtered through the mesh to land in a beaker below. The oil collected on top of the mesh, and rolled off easily into a separate beaker when the mesh was tilted. The nano-coated mesh could clean oil spills for less than $1 per square foot.

  • Aquifer Storage and Recovery should be phased in to reverse Everglades decline

    The aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) is a key component in the Central Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), a joint state-federal effort to reverse the decline of the Everglades ecosystem. CERP aims to “get the water right” by improving the quantity, timing, and distribution of water flows. Over a century of canal drainage and water management has led to extensive losses of natural water storage, leaving the Everglades in critical need of new storage. Although uncertainties about ecological impacts are too great to justify near-term, large-scale implementation of the ASR in the Everglades, the ASR could be phased in to answer several important scientific questions and provide some early restoration benefits, says a report from the National Research Council (NRC).

  • Resilient rivers respond quickly to dam removal

    More than 1,000 dams have been removed across the United States because of safety concerns, sediment buildup, inefficiency, or having otherwise outlived usefulness. A paper published the other day finds that rivers are resilient and respond relatively quickly after a dam is removed. Studies show that most river channels stabilize within months or years, not decades, particularly when dams are removed rapidly.

  • Water scarcity increase Middle East instability

    At least1.6 billion people worldwide face water scarcity because their countries lack the necessary infrastructure to move water from rivers and aquifers. In the Middle East, this lack of water infrastructure combines with the effects of global warming — including prolonged in droughts — to make the entire region politically and economically unstable. Food supplies are diminished as farmers find it difficult to find water for crops, and even basic sanitary requirements are not met due to poor access to clean water, thus increasing the spread of disease.