• Rising seas, bigger storms may greatly magnify U.S. East Coast floods

    Over the past century, the East Coast has seen sea-level rise far above the 8-inch global average — up to a foot in much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, including New York City. Many studies predict that future sea-level rise along the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coasts will increase flooding. Others suggest that the human-caused warming driving this rise will also boost the intensity and frequency of big coastal storms. Up to now, though, these two hazards have been assessed mostly in isolation from each other. Now, a new study quantifies how they could interact to produce alarming spikes in the combined height and duration of flooding. It projects that coastal flooding could possibly shoot up several hundredfold by 2100, from the Northeast to Texas.

  • El Niño, La Niña will exacerbate coastal hazards across entire Pacific

    The projected upsurge of severe El Niño and La Niña events will cause an increase in storm events leading to extreme coastal flooding and erosion in populated regions across the Pacific Ocean, according to a multi-agency study. The impact of these storms is not presently included in most studies on future coastal vulnerability, which look primarily at sea level rise. New research data, from forty-eight beaches across three continents and five countries bordering the Pacific Ocean, suggest the predicted increase will exacerbate coastal erosion irrespective of sea level rise affecting the region.

  • Rather food versus fuel, think in terms of both food and fuel

    Whether you have taken a side or a backseat in the discussion, the “food versus fuel” debate affects us all. Some say growing more biofuel crops today will decrease greenhouse gas emissions, but will make it harder to produce food tomorrow, which has prevented the United States from maximizing the potential of environmentally beneficial biofuels. Scientists argue that farmers can sustainably, and affordably, meet humanity’s growing demand for food and fuel.

  • Snowpack of Sierra Nevada lowest in 500 years, worsening California water woes

    Snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada in 2015 was at the lowest level in the past 500 years, according to a new report. “Our study really points to the extreme character of the 2014-15 winter. This is not just unprecedented over 80 years — it’s unprecedented over 500 years,” said the lead author of the report. On 1 April of this year, California Governor Jerry Brown declared the first-ever mandatory water restrictions throughout the state while standing on dry ground at 6,800-foot elevation in the Sierra Nevada. The historical average snowpack on that site is more than five feet, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

  • NOAA: El Niño may accelerate nuisance flooding

    Nuisance flooding causes public inconveniences such as frequent road closures, overwhelmed storm water systems, and compromised infrastructure. The extent of nuisance flooding depends on multiple factors, including topography and land cover. According to a new NOAA report issued yesterday, many mid-Atlantic and West Coast communities could see the highest number of nuisance flooding days on record through April due to higher sea levels and more frequent storm surge, compounded by the strengthening El Niño, which is likely to continue into the spring. These communities may experience a 33 to 125 percent increase in the number of nuisance flooding days, the report said.

  • Army Corps of Engineers risk reduction projects prevent $13.3 billion in flood damages

    May 2015 was the wettest month on record for both Texas and Oklahoma, and set numerous records throughout the region. Continuing rains from Tropical Storm Bill in June resulted in Army Corps of Engineers flood risk reduction reservoirs and other systems put through a rigorous test to hold the floodwaters and protect local communities and downstream areas. According to recent calculations by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials with the Southwestern Division in Dallas, the Corps flood risk reduction projects in the south central and southwestern United States prevented an estimated $13.3 billion in damages to local communities and infrastructure during the May-June 2015 flood event.

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  • 2015 drought costs for California agriculture: Loss of $1.84 billion, 10,100 jobs

    The drought is tightening its grip on California agriculture, squeezing about 30 percent more workers and cropland out of production than in 2014, according to the latest drought impact report. In 2015, the state’s agricultural economy will lose about $1.84 billion and 10,100 seasonal jobs because of the drought, the report estimated, with the Central Valley hardest hit. The heavy reliance on groundwater comes at ever-increasing energy costs as farmers pump deeper and drill more wells. Some of the heavy pumping is in basins already in severe overdraft — where groundwater use greatly exceeds replenishment of aquifers — inviting further land subsidence, water quality problems, and diminishing reserves needed for future droughts.

  • Sea level rise: NASA watching waters rise right outside the front door – pt. 2

    The rate of sea level rise is faster now than at any time in the past 2,000 years, and that rate has doubled in the past two decades. If ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt as quickly as current measurements indicate, those numbers could become 21 to 24 inches by the 2050s and 43 to 49 inches by the 2080s. Half to two-thirds of NASA’s infrastructure and assets stand within sixteen feet of sea level, so NASA is facing the same problem faced by about 55 to 60 percent of U.S. citizens, who live in counties touching the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, or the Great Lakes. Across the space agency, from lab manager to center director to NASA administrator, people will have continually to ask the question: is it time to abandon this place and move inland? It is a question everyone with coastal property in America will eventually have to answer.

  • NASA watching waters rise right outside the front door – pt. 1

    For the past two centuries, two trends have been steady and clear around the United States. Sea level has been rising, and more people have been moving closer to the coast. As the ocean has warmed, polar ice has melted, and porous landmasses have subsided, global mean sea level has risen by eight inches since 1870. The rate of sea level rise is faster now than at any time in the past 2,000 years, and that rate has doubled in the past two decades. If ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt as quickly as current measurements indicate, those numbers could become twenty-one to twenty-four inches by the 2050s and forty-three to forty-nine inches by the 2080s. About 55 to 60 percent of U.S. citizens live in counties touching the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, or the Great Lakes. A recent study by business and finance leaders found that $66 billion to $106 billion worth of coastal property is likely to sit below sea level by 2050. The nation’s problem is also NASA’s problem, because half to two-thirds of NASA’s infrastructure and assets stand within sixteen feet of sea level.

  • Cleaning explosives pollution with plants

    Biologists have taken an important step in making it possible to clean millions of hectares of land contaminated by explosives. The researchers have unraveled the mechanism of TNT toxicity in plants, raising the possibility of a new approach to explosives remediation technology. TNT has become an extensive global pollutant over the last 100 years and there are mounting concerns over its toxicity to biological systems.

  • What would it take to end California’s drought?

    The excitement about a potentially rain-bearing El Niño is building, and hopes for a swift end to California’s ongoing drought are multiplying. At the same time, many of us who have worked extensively on water issues in the state fear the momentum and progress made on much-needed water reforms will be lost. This will be unfortunate, because California’s current water situation offers an invitation to expand how we think about water and drought conditions. A more nuanced perspective about what drought means and our water needs can help continue the momentum on the shifts, such as conservation measures and groundwater management, needed to deal with what is certainly an uncertain future.

  • Past strategies for managing droughts are obsolete in a hotter, more densely populated world

    California’s current extreme drought must be a lesson for managing water in a warmer, more densely populated world, experts say. The Golden State has a long history of successfully managing droughts, but strategies from the past century are now obsolete, they assert. The current drought, which began in 2012, is a harbinger of what is to come. Engineering our way around periodic water shortages will no longer work in a hotter, drier world with ceaseless human demands on water supplies. Our ever-increasing thirst for water coupled with poor management, aging infrastructure and worsening climate change is a recipe not just for wells run dry, but for ravaged forests, extinct wildlife, and more droughts. Targeted research and public policies that move beyond a crisis response mentality are critically needed, the experts conclude.

  • Smaller cities in developing world unprepared for disaster

    While many planners focus on the threat of natural disasters to major metropolises around the world, a new study shows smaller cities are often even less equipped to handle such catastrophes. In India, where his study was focused, the number of people living in such cities grew from 170 to 227 million over the past twenty years. This, however, has not prompted disaster planning experts to focus on how to safeguard these cities from the risk of floods, earthquakes, mudslides, and tidal waves. Many of those threats are even greater now due to climate change.

  • Rare but predictable storms could pose big hazards

    Researchers at Princeton and MIT have used computer models to show that severe tropical cyclones could hit a number of coastal cities worldwide that are widely seen as unthreatened by such powerful storms.

    The researchers call these potentially devastating storms Gray Swans in comparison with the term Black Swan, which has come to mean truly unpredicted events that have a major impact. Gray Swans are highly unlikely, the researchers said, but they can be predicted with a degree of confidence. The researchers examined potential storm hazards for three cities: Tampa, Florida; Cairns, Australia; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

  • A melting Arctic demands more – not less – research on earth science

    The Arctic is melting rapidly. Who cares? Anyone who is concerned about the rising price of food, lives near the coast, shoveled snow all winter, can’t water their lawn anymore, pays a bigger premium now for property insurance, or enjoys eating seafood. Did we leave anyone out? Apparently so, yet this group of people should care as much as anyone. The House of Representatives earlier this year slashed NASA’s earth sciences research budget, which funds much of the research U.S. scientists do on the Arctic. Scientific research is not a luxury to be indulged. It is an essential contributor to our national well-being, helping us avoid costly mistakes while finding new ways to improve our security, our economy, and our quality of life. Today, Congress is taking us on a course toward an Arctic legacy of myopia, feebleness, and ignorance. Rather than denying the changes that affect us all, they should be steering our national policies toward scientific excellence and vigorous action on challenges such as Arctic meltdown and its impacts. Nowhere is the evidence clearer; never has the need for research been more urgent. We ignore the Arctic at our peril.