Environment

  • Global insured losses from catastrophes were $45 billion in 2013

    Total economic losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters were $140 billion in 2013. Global insured losses were around $45 billion in 2013, with large contributions from flooding and hail events. The economic losses of $140 billion were down from $196 billion in 2012, and  below the 10-year average of $190 billion. Around 26,000 lives were lost in natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in 2013.

  • Southeast England residents most at risk of rising deaths from climate change

    Warmer summers brought on by climate change will cause more deaths in London and southeast England than the rest of the country, scientists predict. Researchers looked at temperature records and mortality figures for 2001 to 2010 to find out which districts in England and Wales experience the biggest effects from warm temperatures. In the most vulnerable districts, in London and the southeast, the odds of dying from cardiovascular or respiratory causes increased by over 10 percent for every 1C rise in temperature.

  • Climate change, population pressures leading to rethink of floating cities

    The concepts have existed for decades, but governments and financiers, responding to the growing threat of rising tides, pollution, and overpopulation to coastal urban centers, are now beginning to take a more serious look at floating cities.

  • Controversial Mississippi power station to cut emissions by more than half

    A new $5 billion state-of-the-art power facility is under construction Kemper County, Mississippi. It places a firm bet on the future of carbon-capture technology, and other technological advancements, including: it utilizes the gasification process with carbon in unique ways; it recycles treated wastewater to generate power; and it makes money from the carbon dioxide it has removed by selling it to oil companies for their own extraction. Critics say that investing so much money in untested technologies is too much of a gamble.

  • Radiation damage to Chernobyl’s ecosystems helps spread radioactivity

    Radiological damage to microbes near the site of the Chernobyl disaster has slowed the decomposition of fallen leaves and other plant matter in the area, according to a new study. The resulting buildup of dry, loose detritus is a wildfire hazard that poses the threat of spreading radioactivity from the Chernobyl area.

  • Linking extreme weather events to climate change a “distraction”: experts

    Connecting extreme weather to climate change distracts from the need to protect society from high-impact weather events which will continue to happen irrespective of human-induced climate change, say experts. They suggest that developing greater resilience to extreme weather events must be given greater priority if the socioeconomic impact of storms, like those that have ravaged Britain this winter, is to be reduced.

  • Heat waves threaten global food supply

    A new study has, for the first time, estimated the global effects of rising temperatures and elevated levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) on the production of maize, wheat, and soybean. Earlier studies have found that climate change is projected to reduce maize yields globally by the end of the century under a “business as usual” scenario for future emissions of greenhouse gases; however, this new study shows that the inclusion of the effects of heat waves, which have not been accounted for in previous modelling calculations, could double the losses of the crop.

  • Planning for future ecological challenges

    How can communities dodge future disasters from Mother Nature before she has dealt the blow? Researchers are taking a unique approach to the issue and gaining input and support from community stakeholders. Researchers conducted a series of one-on-one interviews at Big Hole Valley in Montana and Grand County in Colorado to get an array of community contributors thinking and planning for future ecological hazards, and to consider the impact of those decisions.

  • Radiation from Fukushima to reach West Coast in April

    On the third anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear plant incident, scientists are reporting that low levels of radiation from the Fukushima plant will reach ocean waters along the U.S. West Coast by April 2014. The scientists say that the radiation will be at levels too low to harm humans, but they call for more monitoring, including at the federal level.

  • Determining long-term effects of West Virginia chemical spill

    A chemical mixture called crude 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) is used during the separation and cleaning of coal products. More than 10,000 gallons of the chemical leaked from a storage tank near Charleston, West Virginia, and entered the river upstream of a water-treatment plant on 9 January. The drinking water of more than 300,000 West Virginians was contaminated. Water restrictions began to be lifted on 13 January, but residents are still detecting the telltale odors of MCHM. Virginia Tech faculty engineers and students are unravelling fundamental chemical and health properties of MCHM.

  • “Encouraged” bacteria cleaning up more effectively after oil spills

    Bioremediation is nature’s way of cleaning up. Plants, bacterial decomposers, or enzymes are used to remove contaminants and restore the balance of nature in the wake of pollution incidents. What is surprising is that given the right kind of encouragement, bacteria can be even more effective. Researchers in Norway have achieved surprising results by exploiting nature’s own ability to clean up after oil spills.

  • New technique allows better monitoring of water quality

    Researchers have developed a new technique that uses existing technology to allow researchers and natural resource managers to collect significantly more information on water quality to better inform policy decisions. In addition to its utility for natural resource managers, the technique will also allow researchers to develop more sophisticated models that address water quality questions.

  • Flood risk in Europe could double by 2050

    Losses from extreme floods in Europe could more than double by 2050 because of climate change and socioeconomic development. Floods in the European Union averaged 4.9 billion euros a year from 2000 to 2012. These average losses could increase to 23.5 billion euros by 2050. In addition, large events such as the 2013 European floods are likely to increase in frequency from an average of once every sixteen years to a probability of once every ten years by 2050. Understanding the risk posed by large-scale floods is of growing importance and will be a key for managing climate adaptation.

  • What use are apps when your web infrastructure is underwater?

    This winter has seen unprecedented high winds and flooding resulting in widespread and in some cases, long-lasting power outages in the United Kingdom, particularly in the west of England. Time and time again, companies have advised their customers to go online to check their Web sites for the latest information. Some organizations have even created apps specifically designed to assist flood victims; others have established Facebook self-help groups. There is a fundamental problem here: There are two primary ways in which we gain access to the Web, via a landline and using a mobile connection. Within our homes the landline connects to a wireless router and also, for a lot of homes, a cordless telephone, both of which need electrical power to work. So, when the lights go out, your router and cordless phones are useless. The result is that at times of crisis, the customers in most need are often the ones with no access.

  • People want to save water, but do not know how

    Many Americans are confused about the best ways to conserve water and have a slippery grasp on how much water different activities use, according to a national online survey. Experts say the best strategy for conserving water is to focus on efficiency improvements such as replacing toilets and retrofitting washing machines. The largest group of the participants, however, nearly 43 percent, cited taking shorter showers, which does save water but may not be the most effective action.