• Natural flood-prevention measures valuable, but not “a silver bullet”

    Natural measures to manage flooding from rivers can play a valuable role in flood prevention, but a lack of monitoring means their true potential remains unclear, researchers say. Such measures, including river restoration and tree planting, aim to restore processes that have been affected by human activities such as farming, land management and house-building.

  • Louisiana’s westernmost, low-lying regions on track to drown under sea level rise

    Without major efforts to rebuild Louisiana’s wetlands, which serve as bulwarks against waves and rising seas, the state’s coast has little chance of withstanding the accelerating rate of sea level rise, a new study concludes. Wetlands can provide crucial protection from rising seas, especially in Louisiana’s low-lying westernmost areas, but the habitats have faced years of decline, mostly from coastal erosion. The erosion results in part from levees that have been built along the Mississippi River. The levees block mud deposits that flow to and underlie much of the Louisiana coast. The land, cut off from new building material, begins to sink.

  • Desert communities and the search for hidden water

    In the 1800s, cowboys, ranchers, and miners quarreled over water in the American Southwest, over where to find it, and who could use it. Today, desert communities throughout the Southwest are still putting water availability at the top of their municipal agendas. one area stands out from the rest: the upper Santa Cruz Basin in Arizona has shown a remarkable capacity to store water. What causes the higher water availability in this area?

  • Risk of collapse: U.S. bridges more vulnerable than previously thought

    The United States is considering a $1 trillion budget proposal to update infrastructure, including its crumbling bridges. An obstacle to spending the money wisely is that the current means of assessing bridges may underestimate their vulnerability. Studying how and why bridges have collapsed in the past identifies the limitation of current risk assessment approach and demonstrates the value of new perspectives on climate change impact.

  • Extreme space weather hazardous to U.S. economy, national security

    While major geomagnetic storms are rare, with only a few recorded per century, there is significant potential for large-scale impacts when they do occur. Extreme space weather can be viewed as hazards for the economy and national security. A rare but powerful magnetic superstorm could cause continent-wide loss of electricity and substantial damage to power-grid infrastructure that could persist for months and cost the Nation in excess of $1 trillion.

  • “Spectral fingerprinting” sees through concrete to detect early corrosion

    Doctors use X-ray, CT scan, or MRI to determine whether a patient has suffered any internal injuries. Researchers are using the same principle, but in a more powerful form, to detect corrosion, the primary danger threatening the health of the steel framework within the nation’s bridges, roads, and other aging physical infrastructure. What they have developed is a noninvasive “spectral fingerprint” technique that reveals the corrosion of concrete-encased steel before it can cause any significant degradation of the structure it supports.

  • Testing seismic resilience of laminated wood structures in earthquake-prone areas

    Researchers are developing guidelines that will help builders use more sustainable timber in high-rise buildings in earthquake-prone areas. As part of the $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant, the researchers will eventually test their designs for a 10-story tall, wooden building by simulating a real earthquake in a laboratory.

  • Western U.S.: Loss in water from melting snowpack due to human influence

    Peak runoff in streams and rivers of the western United States is strongly influenced by melting of accumulated mountain snowpack. A significant decline in this resource has a direct connection to streamflow, with substantial economic and societal impacts. An international team of scientists has found that up to 20 percent loss in the annual maximum amount of water contained in the western United States’ mountain snowpack in the last three decades is due to human influence.

  • New filtration method makes water safe to drink

    Researchers have created a membrane that removes viruses from treated wastewater and makes it safe for drinking. The new ultrafiltration method does not rely on chlorine, the commonly used chemical to purify water, which can cause contamination.

  • BP oil spill did $17.2 billion in damage to natural resources

    The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill did $17.2 billion in damage to the natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico, a team of scientists recently found after a six-year study of the impact of the largest oil spill in U.S. history. This is the first comprehensive appraisal of the financial value of the natural resources damaged by the 134-million-gallon spill.

  • Clean power planning

    With a single executive order issued at the end of March, the Trump administration launched a robust effort to roll back Obama-era climate policies designed to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Chief among those policies is the Clean Power Plan, which targets coal and natural gas-fired electric power plants that account for about 40 percent of the nation’s CO2 emissions. Private and public-sector investors may see the executive order as a green light to double down on relatively cheap fossil fuels and reduce holdings in more costly, climate-friendly, non-carbon generation technologies such as wind, solar and nuclear. But they may want to think twice before making such transactions – and a new study details why it’s prudent to invest in carbon-free electricity now.

  • 2017 Cyber Defense Competition tests infrastructure vulnerability

    More than 100 college and high school students from nine states honed their cyber defense skills against experts at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory during Argonne’s second annual Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. In the competition, fifteen college teams defended mock electrical and water utilities from the repeated cyberattacks of a team of experts from Argonne, the Illinois and Wisconsin National Guard, and the technology industry.

  • Ranking hazardous asteroid effects from least to most destructive

    If an asteroid struck Earth, which of its effects—scorching heat, flying debris, towering tsunamis—would claim the most lives? A new study has the answer: violent winds and shock waves are the most dangerous effects produced by Earth-impacting asteroids. The study explored seven effects associated with asteroid impacts—heat, pressure shock waves, flying debris, tsunamis, wind blasts, seismic shaking and cratering—and estimated their lethality for varying sizes. Overall, wind blasts and shock waves were likely to claim the most casualties, with experimental scenarios showing that these two effects accounted for more than 60 percent of lives lost.

  • How will the federal government protect nuclear safety in an anti-regulatory climate?

    The Trump administration and congressional Republicans have undertaken a wide-ranging effort to shrink the federal government’s regulatory footprint. Much attention has focused on high-profile targets, such as the Environmental Protection Agency. But this trend also has major implications for other agencies. One example is the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which oversees safety across a complex, privately owned network of nuclear power plants, used fuel storage facilities and other sites related to civilian uses of nuclear energy. The NRC and the system it regulates exemplify what some scholars call a “high reliability organization” – one that cannot be allowed to fail, because the consequences would be grave (two examples of failures of external oversight: Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011). A high reliability organization is not automatically a highly reliable organization. Reliability is an ongoing accomplishment involving continuous learning, sustained vigilance and a strong system of checks and balances. Moving forward in an anti-regulatory climate, with so many complex challenges facing the agency, it is essential to ensure independent leadership, public transparency and adequate resources to support the NRC’s mission.

  • Sustainability’s threat to fossil fuel industry is only going to increase

    Commercial activity in fossil fuels is increasingly at odds with global actions to reduce the threat of climate change. Burning coal, oil, and natural gas is responsible for two-thirds of humanity’s emissions of greenhouse gases, and yet provides more than 20 percent of GDP in two dozen nation states. By Citicorp’s estimate, current commitments to reduce these emissions could mean forgoing $100 trillion in fossil fuel revenues by 2050 — representing a huge disruption to global affairs, undermining national budgets and corporate balance sheets while exposing stakeholders, including pension holders and ordinary citizens in resource-exporting states, to myriad risks.