Environment

  • 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.

  • Protecting cities from floods cheaper than post-flood damage repairs

    Researchers say that global warming is here to stay, and thus it is time to start making plans for dealing with the inevitable flooding which will occur as ocean levels rise as a result of warmer water and melting snow and ice. Approximately a billion people currently live in areas which are most at risk — low-lying coastal areas. It is not likely that towns and cities will be moved farther inland, so other measures need to be taken. The researchers say that flood prevention strategies are well established, for example, building levees, barrier islands, etc., so it is not difficult to draw up estimates for such schemes for individual areas.

  • Total California water supplies at near-decade low

    Advisory from UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling finds California’s statewide averages of snow, surface water, and soil moisture near 10-year lows. The threat of multi-year period of unsustainable groundwater depletion imminent if drought continues. The data show particularly steep water losses between November 2011 and November 2013, the early phase of the current drought. The researchers estimate that the Sacramento and San Joaquin River basins have already lost ten cubic kilometers of fresh water in each of the last two years — equivalent to virtually all of California’s urban and household water use each year.

  • Eco-terrorist sentenced to five years and ordered to read Malcolm Gladwell’s book

    Last Monday, Chief U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken imposed a 5-year sentence on radical environmental activist Rebecca Rubin for her involvement in several acts of arson, including the burning of Vail Colorado’s Twin Elks Lodge which caused millions of dollars in damage. Rubin spent almost eight years living underground, giving herself up to the FBI last October. She pleaded guilty to arson, attempted arson, and conspiracy to commit arson in connection with a radical environmental group calling itself The Family. Judge Aiken also ordered Rubin to read Malcolm Gladwell’s 2013 book David and Goliath, explaining that Rubin might learn a thing or two about non-violent environmental advocacy while serving her sentence.

  • Senegal climate change-induced flooding reaching crisis proportions: UN

    Margareta Wahlstrom, the head of the UN disaster risk, last week warned that climate change-induced flooding had reached crisis proportions in Senegal, with some towns and villages now finding themselves underwater for large parts of the year. Wahlstrom, who was in Senegal for a 3-day visit as part of the UN preparations for a new global disaster risk-reduction strategy, said that mayors of coastal and riverside towns and villages told her their streets were flooded ten months out of twelve.

  • Clouds influence how greenhouse gases affect climate

    The warming effect of human-induced greenhouse gases is a given, but to what extent can we predict its future influence? That is an issue on which science is making progress, but the answers are still far from exact, say researchers. Indeed, one could say that the picture is a “cloudy” one, since the determination of the greenhouse gas effect involves multifaceted interactions with cloud cover.

  • Some citizens of low-lying Pacific island nations seeking climate-change refugee status

    More and more resident of Pacific island nations and territories are trying to claim refugee status in Australia and New Zealand, arguing that rising sea levels, caused by climate change, are forcing them out of their homes and destroying their livelihood. The New Zealand High Court has rejected the refugee status petition of Loane Teitota and his family, citizens of Kiribati, a low-lying Pacific Island nation near the equator, saying that Teitota’s argument was “novel” and “optimistic.” The court cautioned that if the argument were adopted, then millions of people suffering from the effects of climate change would seek refugee status in New Zealand or any other country.

  • The 9 January chemical leak in West Virginia is the latest in a long history of industrial accidents

    The chemical spill that affected the water source in nine West Virginia counties in early January is part of a long history of industrial accidents resulting from the concentration of chemical and coal-mining operations in the region. The 9 January spill, which saw coal-cleansing chemical which leaked from Freedom Industries’ storage tank into the Elk River, leaving more than 300,000 residents without access to clean tap water for days, is the latest in a history of pollution which has poisoned groundwater, spewed toxic gas emissions, and caused fires and explosions.

  • Increase in wildfires may significantly degrade air quality, health in the future

    As the American West, parched by prolonged drought, braces for a season of potentially record-breaking wildfires, new research suggests these events not only pose an immediate threat to people’s safety and their homes, but also could take a toll on human health, agriculture, and ecosystems.

  • The combination of drought and warming climate places severe strain on California’s water supply

    As stores of water in the West are reduced — whether by usage in drought, evapotranspiration in heat, or both — warming temperatures also see the snowpack on the wane. The two phenomena together could put severe strain on water supplies, with implications for ecosystems, industries, and people alike. Even at their most severe, the droughts of decades and centuries past did not occur in tandem with today’s degree of temperature change or have to contend with the demands of a population that in California alone now numbers above thirty-eight million residents. As needs for water grow ever greater, so, too, do the potential threats to its supply.