Environment

  • European grain yield stagnation partially caused by climate change

    The European Union led the world in wheat production and exports in 2014-15. Yet Europe is also the region where productivity has slowed the most. Yields of major crops have not increased as much as would be expected over the past twenty years, based on past productivity increases and innovations in agriculture. Finding the causes of that stagnation is key to understanding the trajectory of the global food supply. Stanford University’s researchers say climate trends account for 10 percent of that stagnation.

  • What historic megadroughts in the western U.S. tell us about our climate future

    In an important paper published in Science Advances last week, scientists found that future droughts driven by human-induced global warming could surpass even the driest periods in North America over the past 1,000 years. The scientists combined knowledge of past droughts and future projections in order to compare the projected twenty-first-century states of aridity in the western United States to the megadrought periods over the last millennium. They stitched 1,000 years of paleoclimatic estimates of soil moisture variability derived from tree rings, together with an ensemble of state-of-the-art climate model simulations for the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. When they compared the future projections of drought to the past they found that they were more severe and persistent than at any time during the last thousand years, even if they considered only the driest megadrought periods. The findings are sobering, but they are consistent with past experience, the researchers write: “When it comes to drought in the American West, particularly in the Southwest and Central Plains, expect more, worse, and longer events.”

  • NASA scientists issue New York City climate change 2015 report

    A new report by NASA and Columbia University researchers details significant future increases in temperature, precipitation, and sea level in the New York metropolitan area. The report aims to increase current and future resiliency of the communities, citywide systems, and infrastructure in the New York metropolitan region to a range of climate risks. “Climate change research isn’t just something for the future,” said the NASA scientist who chaired the panel which produced the report. “It’s affecting how key policy decisions are being made now.

  • Warming pushes Western U.S. toward driest period in 1,000 years

    Study warns of unprecedented risk of drought in twenty-first century. Today, eleven of the past fourteen years have been drought years in much of the American West, including California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona and across the Southern Plains to Texas and Oklahoma. The current drought directly affects more than sixty-four million people in the Southwest and Southern Plains, and many more are indirectly affected because of the impacts on agricultural regions. A new study predicts that during the second half of the twenty-first century, the U.S. Southwest and Great Plains will face persistent drought worse than anything seen in times ancient or modern, with the drying conditions “driven primarily” by human-induced global warming.

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  • Geoengineering not a substitute for reducing carbon emissions: Scientists

    There is no substitute for dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the negative consequences of climate change, a National Research Council committee concluded in a two-volume evaluation of proposed climate-intervention techniques. Strategies to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are limited by cost and technological immaturity, but they could contribute to a broader portfolio of climate change responses with further research and development. Albedo-modification technologies, which aim to increase the ability of Earth or clouds to reflect incoming sunlight, pose considerable risks and should not be deployed at this time.

  • Geoengineering solutions to climate change not likely to be ready in time

    Governments have been slow to adopt measures to deal with climate change, so it is not surprising that scientists and engineers have been offering different technologies which would help slow down, or even reverse, global warming. These different technologies are called “geoengineering.” Some scientists have now concluded that even if a technological solution is found, it may not be developed and implemented quickly enough to affect the change required.

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  • Royal commission into nuclear will open a world of possibilities

    Discussion of nuclear energy in Australia has matured in recent years with greater focus on factual arguments, the relativity of risks and the need for robust scientific sourcing of claims. South Australia’s potential to merge prosperity, clean energy and good global citizenship can barely be overstated. Globally, there are around 240,000 metric tons heavy metal (MtHM ) in spent nuclear fuel, much of which was dug from South Australian ores. By 2040 this will be around 700,000 MtHM. Robust dry-cask storage is now a demonstrated, reliable and recognized solution for holding this material. It can be quickly, readily implemented by South Australia. Importantly, such a facility would mean the material is retrievable, to enable the extraction of further value through recycling. A secure, multinational destination for spent fuel, located in a politically and geologically stable country such as Australia, would spur more rapid expansion of current generation reactors. This would displace coal as the fuel of choice in rapidly growing economies.

  • Microcapsules stop greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere

    Current carbon capture technology uses caustic amine-based solvents to separate CO2 from the flue gas escaping a facility’s smokestacks. State-of-the-art processes, however, are expensive, result in a significant reduction in a power plant’s output, and yield toxic byproducts. Scientists have developed a novel class of materials – microcapsules — which enable a safer, cheaper, and more energy-efficient process for removing greenhouse gas from power plant emissions. The microcapsules offer a new approach to carbon capture and storage at power plants.

  • "uisance flooding” becoming problem for many U.S. coastal communities

    Scientists say that floods and surges will become a regular feature of life in many coastal U.S. cities, even when the weather is not particularly bad or stormy. Some communities along the East Coast are flooding even in calm, clear weather, indicating a trend of “nuisance floods” which will increasingly plague many parts of the U.S. coast in the future. Annapolis, Maryland, is but one example: From 1957 to 1963, flooding hit the city about 3.8 days a year. From 2007 to 2013, that average had increased to 39.3 days a year.

  • Coastal communities can lower flood insurance rates by addressing sea-level rise

    City leaders and property developers in Tampa Bay are urging coastal communities to prepare today for sea-level rise and future floods in order to keep flood insurance rates low in the future. FEMA, which administers the National Flood Insurance Program(NFIP), is increasing flood insurance premiums across the country, partly to offset losses from recent disasters such as hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. Cities can reduce insurance premiums for nearly all residents who carry flood coverage by improving storm-water drainage, updating building codes to reflect projected rise in sea-levels, moving homes out of potentially hazardous areas, and effectively informing residents about storm danger and evacuation routes.

  • Levels of mercury in Hawaiian yellowfin tuna increasing

    Mercury is a toxic trace metal that can accumulate to high concentrations in fish, posing a health risk to people who eat large, predatory marine fish such as swordfish and tuna. In the open ocean, the principal source of mercury is atmospheric deposition from human activities, especially emissions from coal-fired power plants and artisanal gold mining. Mercury concentrations in Hawaiian yellowfin tuna are increasing at a rate of 3.8 percent or more per year, according to a new study, which suggests rising atmospheric levels of the toxic substance are to blame.

  • Rising seas may force coastal communities to “strategically retreat”: Corps of Engineers

    In response to Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineershas conducted a two-year study on 31,200 miles of coastal, back bay, and estuarine areas in ten states. The Corps has identified nine high-risk areas for future flooding along the North Atlantic coast. The study offers a nine-step planning process on how to identify risky areas and develop strategies to reduce the risk. It also recommends several ways communities can deal with rising sea levels, including bulkheads, seawalls, levees, elevation of homes and roads, dunes, breakwaters, living shorelines made of natural materials, groins, deployable floodwalls, and reefs. “Some communities looking out twenty years or more may consider strategic retreat and relocating people to higher ground. Each community has to evaluate which measures will work for them,” said Amy Guise, the chief of the Army Corps command center in Baltimore.

  • Missing oil from Deepwater Horizon 2010 accident found

    After 200 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the government and BP cleanup crews mysteriously had trouble locating all of it. Now, a new study finds that some six million to ten million gallons are buried in the sediment on the Gulf floor, about sixty-two miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta.

  • Reprogramming plants to withstand drought

    Crops and other plants are constantly faced with adverse environmental conditions, such as rising temperatures (2014 was the warmest year on record) and lessening fresh water supplies, which lower yield and cost farmers billions of dollars annually. Research in synthetic biology provides a strategy that has reprogrammed plants to consume less water after they are exposed to an agrochemical, opening new doors for crop improvement.

  • Prolonged heatwaves in urban areas increase significantly over past 40 years

    The world’s urban areas have experienced significant increases in heatwaves over the past forty years, according to new research published last week. These prolonged periods of extreme hot days have significantly increased in over 200 urban areas across the globe between 1973 and 2012, and have been most prominent in the most recent years on record. The study is one of the first to focus solely on the extent of extreme weather on a global scale, as well as examining disparities between urban and non-urban areas.