Environment

  • Wetland preservation is good business

    A recently published study is making the case for wetland preservation by highlighting the economic incentives that such preservation could provide to urban centers.Infrastructure investment in urban waterfronts could soon be seen as one of the best economic decisions a city could make. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that “$1 million invested in coastal restoration creates 17.1 jobs, compared to just 8.9 jobs for every $1 million invested in oil and gas development.”

  • U.S. corn yields increasingly vulnerable to hot, dry weather

    The United States produces 40 percent of the world’s corn, mostly in Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana. As more than 80 percent of U.S. agricultural land relies on natural rainfall rather than irrigation, corn farmers in these regions depend on precipitation, air temperature, and humidity for optimal plant growth. U.S. corn yields are growing more sensitive to heat and drought. Farmers are faced with difficult tradeoffs in adapting to a changing climate in which unfavorable weather will become more common.

  • Longer periods of tornado activity are more destructive, but also more predictable

    Significant tornado outbreaks, and especially strong tornadoes, are more likely occur within periods of activity lasting three or more days, according to a new study. The study examined thirty years of U.S. weather records and found that an outbreak of twenty or more reported tornadoes had a 74 percent probability of occurring during a period of tornado activity lasting three or more days. During those same periods, a tornado rated 3 or higher on the Enhanced Fujita scale had a 60 percent probability of hitting.

  • Producing more oil by capturing carbon

    Any method that leads to the production of more oil seems counter to the prevailing wisdom on climate change that says use of more greenhouse-gas-emitting fuel is detrimental. There is one oil-recovery process, however, which some say could be part of the climate change solution and now unites unlikely allies in industry, government and environmental groups.

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  • Businesses take more responsibility for sustainable freshwater use

    Growing freshwater scarcity owing to rising water demands and a changing climate is increasingly perceived as a major risk for the global economy. In a special issue of Nature Climate Change, devoted to this emerging global concern, researchers argue that consumer awareness, private sector initiatives, governmental regulation, and targeted investments are urgently necessary to move toward sustainable water use across value chains.

  • Promoting nuclear power to avoid geoengineering

    There are two basic geoengineering strategies to reduce climate change: injecting aerosols such as sulfates into the stratosphere to block a portion of the sun’s radiation and thereby cool the Earth, much as volcanic emissions do; and the large-scale removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The aerosol-injection approach is much more likely to be pursued at current stages of technological development. Scientists say that in order to avoid the need for geoengineering, which could have enormous unforeseen consequences, the international community should pursue increased deployment of nuclear power plants, which do not emit carbon dioxide, to address the climate crisis. Many climate scientists are generally supportive of nuclear engineering and less fearful of it than they are of geoengineering.

  • Odds of storm waters overflowing Manhattan seawall up 20-fold, new study says

    Maximum water levels in New York harbor during major storms have risen by nearly two and a half feet since the mid-1800s, making the chances of water overtopping the Manhattan seawall now at least twenty times greater than they were 170 years ago, according to a new study. Whereas sea-level rise, which is occurring globally, has raised water levels along New York harbor by nearly a foot and a half since the mid-nineteenth century, the research shows that the maximum height of the city’s “once-in-10-years” storm tide has grown additionally by almost a foot in that same period.

  • Dams will not reduce flow of sand to Mississippi River Delta

    The wetlands of the Mississippi River Delta are slowly sinking and rapidly eroding, but new research has found the river’s supply of sand — the material engineers most need to rebuild the delta — will stay constant for centuries. The new study is encouraging news for scientists and government officials who are working to shore up southeastern Louisiana’s rapidly disappearing wetlands.

  • Climate benefit of biofuels from corn residue questioned

    Using corn crop residue to make ethanol and other biofuels reduces soil carbon and generates more greenhouse gases than gasoline, according to a new study. The findings cast doubt on whether corn residue can be used to meet federal mandates to ramp up ethanol production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Debate over Ontario, Canada underground nuclear waste facility intensifies

    Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) proposal to construct an underground nuclear waste disposal facility near the company’s Bruce Nuclear plantand on the edge of the Great Lakes is facing growing opposition from local municipalities and environmentalists. The facility would store low and intermediate nuclear waste from OPG’s Bruce, Pickering, and Darlington nuclear facilities. Environmentalists are concerned that a leak in the underground facility would be devastating for communities which depend on water from the Great Lakes.

  • Dynamic atolls give hope that Pacific Islands can defy sea rise

    It is widely predicted that low-lying coral reef islands will drown as a result of sea-level rise, leaving their populations as environmental refugees. New evidence, however, now suggests that these small islands will be more resilient to sea-level rise than we thought. The new findings suggest that, rather than being passive lumps of rock that will be swamped by rising seas and eroded by storms, the islands are dynamic structures that can move and even grow in response to changing seas. Although the islands may survive into the future, the changes could still affect issues like fresh water and agriculture, potentially making life on these islands much more difficult than it is today.

  • “Dressed” laser aims at clouds to induce rain, lightning

    The adage “Everyone complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it,” may one day be obsolete if researchers further develop a new technique to aim a high-energy laser beam into clouds to make it rain or trigger lightning. The researchers work on surround the beam with a second beam to act as an energy reservoir, sustaining the central beam to greater distances than previously possible. The secondary “dress” beam refuels and helps prevent the dissipation of the high-intensity primary beam. Gaining control over the length of a filament would allow the creation of the conditions needed for a rainstorm from afar. People could thus artificially control the rain and lightning over a large expanse.

  • More, bigger wildfires burning western U.S.

    Wildfires across the western United States have been getting bigger and more frequent over the last thirty years — a trend that could continue as climate change causes temperatures to rise and drought to become more severe in the coming decades, according to new research.

  • Floating nuclear plants could ride out tsunamis

    When an earthquake and tsunami struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant complex in 2011, neither the quake nor the inundation caused the ensuing contamination. Rather, it was the aftereffects — specifically, the lack of cooling for the reactor cores, due to a shutdown of all power at the station — that caused most of the harm. A new design for nuclear plants built on floating platforms, modeled after those used for offshore oil drilling, could help avoid such consequences in the future. Such floating plants would be designed to be automatically cooled by the surrounding seawater in a worst-case scenario, which would indefinitely prevent any melting of fuel rods, or escape of radioactive material.

  • A few “problem” shale gas wells source of greenhouse gas

    High levels of the greenhouse gas methane were found above shale gas wells at a production point not thought to be an important emissions source, according to a new study. The findings could have implications for the evaluation of the environmental impacts from natural gas production. The study, which is one of only a few to use a so-called “top down” approach that measures methane gas levels in the air above wells, identified seven individual well pads with high emission levels and established their stage in the shale-gas development process.