Infrastructure

  • Climate change, a factor in Texas floods, largely ignored

    Climate change is taking a toll on Texas, and the devastating floods that have killed at least fifteen people and left twelve others missing across the state are some of the best evidence yet of that phenomenon, state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said in an interview last Wednesday. “We have observed an increase of heavy rain events, at least in the South-Central United States, including Texas,” said Nielsen-Gammon, who was appointed by former Gov. George W. Bush in 2000. “And it’s consistent with what we would expect from climate change.” Some Republican state legislators who had opposed including climate change forecasts in state agencies’ planning work, say they are rethinking their position. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) said that after last week’s flooding, he is taking the need for planning for extreme weather seriously. “I’ll certainly have it on my radar,” Hunter said. “When you see these strange weather patterns, it’s important to keep all of these things in mind.”

  • Winners and losers in California’s water crisis

    A recent article highlights the widening gap of inequality between the wealthy and the poor of California, specifically in relation to the State’s current drought. The authors discuss what has caused these inequalities to expand — the outdated and unsupervised water regulations still currently used, combined with decentralized local control means using and sourcing water comes down to the simple matter of what people can and cannot afford.

  • Debate in North Carolina over sea-level rise continues

    Climate change skeptics in the North Carolina legislature revised the forecast horizon of the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission (CRC), a panel of scientific and engineering experts set up by the state government to advised state agencies on coastal issues, from ninety years to thirty years. Infrastructure experts said limiting forecasts to thirty years does not make sense because large infrastructure projects are designed to last at least two or three times that, and hence must take into account conditions which will likely prevail well into the future. Local communities in the state say that since, in their own infrastructure planning, they are not bound by arbitrary limits imposed on state agencies by the legislature, they take a longer view of emerging coastal hazards – and plan accordingly.

  • Exciting time ahead for power industry: Energy expert

    New developments in the field of power electronics could lead to greater flexibility for the U.S. electrical power grid, says an expert in power engineering. The key, she says, will be advancements in power electronics — instruments that control and convert electric power, such as semiconductor switching devices. “Power electronics are going to make the power system more flexible, allowing us to really control how the power flows in the system much like you might consider traffic lights controlling traffic flow,” the expert says.

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  • New EPA rules extend Clean Water Act protection to more streams, wetlands

    Aiming to clarify the ambiguities of the federal Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week issued a new ruling which take a tougher approach to the protection of streams and wetlands which support wildlife habitats and filter drinking water supplies. EPA officials have warned that up to 60 percent of the streams and millions of acres of wetlands in the United States are not protected under current law. The new regulations would bring these streams and wetlands under the protection of the Clean Water Act.

  • New reactor design recycles nuclear waste

    One of the major technological hurdles for nuclear energy is developing systems to dispose of the waste produced by typical reactors. It must be sealed away for hundreds of millennia while the radioactivity naturally decreases. An advanced nuclear reactor under development by Hitachi could help solve the nuclear waste problem. Hitachi’s new design would burn off the longest-lived radioactive materials, called transuranics, shortening that isolation period to a few centuries. This would recycle the nuclear waste to produce yet more energy and reduce the amount that must be stowed away.

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  • Global climate on verge of multi-decadal change

    A new study suggests that the global climate is on the verge of broad-scale change that could last for a number of decades. The change to the new set of climatic conditions is associated with a cooling of the Atlantic, and is likely to bring drier summers in Britain and Ireland, accelerated sea-level rise along the northeast coast of the United States, and drought in the developing countries of the Sahel region.

  • Warming amplifying adverse effects of California’s historic drought

    Although record low precipitation has been the main driver of one of the worst droughts in California history, abnormally high temperatures have also played an important role in, according to a recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey and university partners. Experiments with a hydrologic model for the period October 2013-September 2014 showed that if the air temperatures had been cooler, similar to the 1916-2012 average, there would have been an 86 percent chance that the winter snowpack would have been greater, the spring-summer runoff higher, and the spring-summer soil moisture deficits smaller.

  • Assessing climate change vulnerability in Georgia

    New research from the University of Georgia assesses the communities in the state most vulnerable to changes in temperature and precipitation. The study examines not only the sensitivity and susceptibility of populations that are vulnerable to flooding along the coast, but also the social vulnerability of inland populations in Georgia. The research presents a vulnerability assessment of Georgia based on county-level statistics from 1975 to 2012.

  • Weak regulation of grid soundness limits efforts to improve system reliability

    Electricity systems in the United States are so haphazardly regulated for reliability, it is nearly impossible for customers to know their true risk of losing service in a major storm, a new analysis found. Though weather-related outages have risen over the last decade, and research shows extreme weather events will occur with more intensity and frequency in the future, power providers do not necessarily have to report storm-related outages, leaving customers with an incomplete picture of the system’s reliability and potentially limiting efforts to improve system reliability, the researchers concluded.

  • Testing wave energy generation in rough sea conditions

    Oceans, which cover some 71 percent of the earth’s surface, represent an untapped source of clean, renewable energy. Early demonstrations have already shown that the energy stored in waves can be captured by floating energy converters. Now scientists want to rigorously test this technology on a much larger scale, to see whether the concept is truly viable and whether hardware is capable of surviving rough sea conditions over a period of several years. EU-funded researchers with the CEFOW project are about to put cutting edge wave power technology to the test in real ocean conditions.

  • Himalayas glaciers volume to decline dramatically, affecting region’s water supply

    Glaciers in High Mountain Asia, a region that includes the Himalayas, contain the largest volume of ice outside the polar regions. If greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise, glaciers in the Everest region of the Himalayas could experience dramatic change in the decades to come – and may decline by between 70 percent and 99 percent by 2100. Changes in glacier volume can impact the availability of water, with consequences for agriculture and hydropower generation. While increased glacier melt initially increases water flows, ongoing retreat leads to reduced meltwater from the glaciers during the warmer months. “The signal of future glacier change in the region is clear: continued and possibly accelerated mass loss from glaciers is likely given the projected increase in temperatures,” says a researcher.

  • California group blames immigrants for state’s historic drought

    Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), an anti-immigration environmentalist group, has made a splash with provocative advertisements which feature a young child asking, “If Californians are having fewer children, why isn’t there enough water?” The ad is part of a broader media campaign by the organization which blames immigrant populations for the historic drought in the state. CAPS is calling for stricter enforcement of immigration laws on environmental grounds: it argues that the state’s natural resources cannot sustain the high levels immigration-driven population growth of recent decades. Drought experts and climatologists dismiss CAPS’s claims about the connection between immigration and drought as laughable.

  • Earthquake preparations in the Pacific Northwest need to start now: Experts

    Developing the resilience to withstand a massive earthquake along the Pacific Northwest’s Cascadia Subduction Zone is the responsibility of public agencies, private businesses, and individuals, and that work should be under way now, an OSU expert advised Congressional leaders last week in Washington, D.C.“It will take fifty years for us to prepare for this impending earthquake. The time to act is before you have the earthquake. Everybody needs to take some responsibility and start preparing now.” Earthquake preparation, or lack thereof, is not an issue unique to Oregon: Forty-two U.S. states have significant earthquake faults.

  • Remote project a proof of concept for eco-friendly desalination

    In the past water desalination has been identified with industrial-scale, energy hungry plants, but researchers working at a remote indigenous community in Western Australia have proved portable, solar-powered desalination can provide cost-effective water security for a small community.