Environment

  • 50-state roadmap to renewable energy unveiled

    Researchers recently developed detailed plans to transform the energy infrastructure of New York, California, and Washington states from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable resources by 2050. The new roadmap to renewable energy for all fifty states was presented on 15 February at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Chicago. The online interactive roadmap is tailored to maximize the resource potential of each state.

  • Out-of-control giant satellite poses “Gravity”-style space debris threat

    Envisat, a £1.8 billion, 9-meter-long behemoth, was launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2002, and used ten sophisticated sensors to observe and monitor Earth’s land, atmosphere, oceans and ice caps. ESA, however, lost contact with the satellite in April 2012 — and declared the end of the mission soon after. The satellite now orbits the Earth free from human control at an altitude of 790 km — where the amount of space debris around the planet is greatest. In a paper, University of Leicester students point out that unless it is brought under control, Envisat could potentially pose a threat similar to the events which plague Sandra Bullock in the Oscar-nominated sci-fi thriller “Gravity.”

  • Studying the 2011 Mississippi and Ohio rivers flood for better flood preparedness

    In May 2011, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers used explosives to breach a levee south of Cairo, Illinois, diverting the rising waters of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to prevent flooding in the town, about 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland were inundated. It was the largest flood of the lower Mississippi ever recorded. Researchers took advantage of this “once-in-a-scientific-lifetime” occurrence to study the damage in order to demonstrate that landscape vulnerabilities can be mapped ahead of time to help communities prepare for extreme flooding.

  • Implementing solar radiation management, then stopping, would accelerate climate change

    One geoengineering approach to slowing or reversing climate change is solar radiation management, which envisions spraying tiny sulfur-based particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight. This is similar to what happens after a major volcanic eruption, and many experts believe the technique is economically and technically feasible. Continuous implementation over years, however, depends on technical functioning, continuous funding, bureaucratic agreement, and lack of negative side effects. In a new study, researchers say that spraying reflective particles into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight and then stopping it could exacerbate the problem of climate change.

  • Resistance shapes the discovery of new insecticides

    Recent news around the world has focused on the dangers of antibiotic resistance. – and the CDC estimates over two-million illnesses and 23,000 deaths occurred in 2013 as a result of antibiotic resistance in bacteria and fungus. But what of another type of resistance which can also have a huge impact on the population: that to insecticides? Livestock, for example, are affected by buffalo flies; farmers and customers are familiar with the total devastation caused by fruit flies; malaria mosquitoes and bed bugs are becoming more resistant to existing chemicals. Even our pets are affected: fleas and ticks are continuing their march, leading to a need for newer, often more expensive synthetic chemistries. The price of insecticide resistance — in the form of R&D costs for new compounds — is passed from chemical companies, to farmers, to consumers.

  • Promising geothermal resources found on Akutan Island, Alaska

    Akutan Island, in Alaska’s east-central Aleutian Islands, hosts the City of Akutan and is home to the largest seafood production facility in North America. It also hosts Akutan Volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in the United States. During July 2012 the geochemistry of the hot springs on Akutan Island was studied in detail for the first time since the early 1980s. The results from this study document higher concentrations of hydrothermal components in the hot spring waters and an increase in water discharge from the hot spring system. The current heat output of the hot spring system is estimated at twenty-nine megawatts — nearly ten times higher than measured in the early 1980s. This large increase may reflect the volcanic and seismic events of the 1990s, and if so, it cannot be considered a short-term anomaly. Modern geothermal plants could use this heat to generate several MW of electricity. One MW of electric power would supply the needs of about 750 homes.

  • Torrential rain, hurricane-force winds, floods continue to batter U.K.

    Torrential rains, floods, and winds with speeds reaching 108 mph continue to batter south and west U.K., causing massive disruptions to power supply and road and rail transportation. Britain is enjoying a short respite today (Thursday), but meteorologists warned people to brace themselves for more chaos as another storm brings heavy rain, strong winds, and more risk of flooding on Friday and into the weekend. Severe flood warnings, indicating danger to life, remain in place in Berkshire, Surrey, and Somerset, where hundreds of homes have been evacuated.

  • W.Va. spill leads lawmakers, industry to look at reforming toxic substances law

    The government was slow to respond to the 9 January 2014 massive chemical spill in West Virginia because the law governing such response, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), limits regulatory agencies’ authority to investigate such spills.Under TSCA, the EPA must first prove that a chemical poses an unreasonable risk to health or the environment before it can require the needed testing that would show a potential risk. One observer called this a Catch-22, telling a congressional panel that “This is like requiring a doctor to prove that a patient has cancer before being able to order a biopsy.”

  • Floods caused lead poisoning in U.K. cattle

    Massive floods in England and Wales have forced thousands to evacuate their homes and destroyed railways and roads. Scientists say the U.K. floods of recent years carry yet another danger with them: lead poisoning. Silage cut from fields soon after they were inundated in the 2012 floods and then fed to cattle raised the lead levels in the animals, killing some of them. Blood samples taken from cattle showed that all of them had lead levels beyond the safe limit for human consumption. An autopsy carried out on one of the casualty animals found lead concentrations 79 times the safe level in its kidney. The contaminated material is thought to originate from historical metal mining in the area. Scientists say a number of river catchments throughout England and Wales face a similar risk.

  • Natural gas leaks a significant source of green-house gas methane

    Methane, a key greenhouse gas, has more than doubled in volume in Earth’s atmosphere since 1750. Its increase is believed to be a leading contributor to climate change. Where is the methane coming from, however? Research by atmospheric chemist Paul Wennberg of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) suggests that losses of natural gas – regarded as the “cleanest” fossil fuel — into the atmosphere may be a larger source than previously recognized.

  • U.K. facing flood crisis, as prime minister warns victims they are in for “long haul”

    David Cameron warns flooding victims that they are in for a “long haul,” as the weather service says the weather will get worse this week, leaving thousands more homes at risk. There is a growing anger at the government by residents who complain that in addition to lack of preparation and response – thus, there were many complaints that sandbags intended for the worst-hit areas being “hijacked” and unavailable to stem the rising water – government agencies have not provided enough security after resident were ordered to evacuate, leading to looting of vacant homes. Officials have predicted that thousands more homes will be flooded over the coming days and said restoring the country’s battered rail network could take months.

  • More than 60 percent of California suffers drought conditions, with no relief in sight

    The entire west coast of the United States is changing color as the deepest drought in more than a century unfolds. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and NOAA, dry conditions have become extreme across more than 62 percent of California’s land area — and there is little relief in sight. “Up and down California, from Oregon to Mexico, it’s dry as a bone,” say a NAA scientist. “To make matters worse, the snowpack in the water-storing Sierras is less than 20 percent of normal for this time of the year.”

  • Coastal areas must adapt to sea-level rise and storm surges or suffer massive damage

    A new study presents, for the first time, comprehensive global simulation results on future flood damages to buildings and infrastructure in coastal flood plains. Drastic increases in these damages are expected due to both rising sea levels and population and economic growth in the coastal zone. Asia and Africa may be particularly hard hit because of their rapidly growing coastal mega-cities, such as Shanghai, Manila, and Lagos.

  • Quake-vulnerable concrete buildings in Los Angeles area identified

    Researchers have identified nonductile concrete buildings constructed before roughly 1980 in the Los Angeles area. This category of buildings is known from experience in previous earthquakes to have the potential for catastrophic collapse during strong earthquakes. Nonductile concrete buildings were a prevalent construction type in seismically active zones of the United States before the enforcement of codes for ductile concrete which were introduced in the mid-1970s. A companion study estimates that approximately 17,000 nonductile reinforced concrete buildings are located in the most highly seismic areas of California. More than seventy-five million Americans in thirty-nine states live in towns and cities at risk for earthquake devastation.

  • New research on ocean conditions to aid Navy planners

    The Office of Naval Research Global (ONR Global) announced last week a grant to the University of Melbourne which will provide new insights into ocean conditions — crucial information for Navy planners involved in tactical and strategic decision-making. The goal of the effort is to provide the best information possible on the environmental, or battlefield, conditions, so that tactical and strategic decisions can be properly made.