• Snowpack of Sierra Nevada lowest in 500 years, worsening California water woes

    Snowpack in California’s Sierra Nevada in 2015 was at the lowest level in the past 500 years, according to a new report. “Our study really points to the extreme character of the 2014-15 winter. This is not just unprecedented over 80 years — it’s unprecedented over 500 years,” said the lead author of the report. On 1 April of this year, California Governor Jerry Brown declared the first-ever mandatory water restrictions throughout the state while standing on dry ground at 6,800-foot elevation in the Sierra Nevada. The historical average snowpack on that site is more than five feet, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

  • Burning world’s remaining fossil fuel could cause 60-meter sea level rise

    New work from an international team including Carnegie’s Ken Caldeira demonstrates that the planet’s remaining fossil fuel resources would be sufficient to melt nearly all of Antarctica if burned, leading to a 50- or 60-meter (160- to 200-foot) rise in sea level. Because so many major cities are at or near sea level, this would put many highly populated areas where more than a billion people live under water, including New York City and Washington, D.C. The researchers found that if global warming did not exceed the 2 degree Celsius target often cited by climate policymakers, Antarctic melting would cause sea levels to rise only a few meters and remain manageable. But greater warming could reshape the East and West ice sheets irreparably, with every additional tenth of a degree increasing the risk of total and irreversible Antarctic ice loss.

  • Beyond data theft: Next phase of cyber intrusions will include destruction, manipulation of data

    James Clapper, director of U.S. intelligence, and other senior intelligence officers, have warned Congress that the next phase of escalating online data theft will likely involve the manipulation of digital information. Clapper on Wednesday told lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee that a “cyber Armageddon,” in which a digitally triggered damage to physical infrastructure results in a series of catastrophic events, is less likely than “cyber operations that will change or manipulate data.” Leaders of the U.S. intelligence community told lawmakers that the manipulation or destruction of data would undermine confidence in data stored on or accessible through U.S. networks, engendering an uncertainty which could jeopardize U.S. military situational awareness and undermine business activity.

  • Pipeline replacement programs are effective

    Aging infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and natural gas and water mains, is an increasing concern. In 2011 the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a call to action to accelerate the repair, rehabilitation, and replacement of the highest-risk pipeline infrastructure. Invisible gas leaks from aging or damaged pipelines cost U.S. consumers billions of dollars every year, contribute to global warming and, in rare cases, cause dangerous explosions. Pipeline replacement programs in cities, however, can cut natural gas leaks by 90 percent, a new study finds. “The surprise wasn’t that replacement programs worked,” said the study’s lead author. “It was that they worked so well.”

  • Innovative method filters seawater in minutes

    Researchers have unveiled a cost-effective desalination technology which can filter highly salty water in minutes. The technology is based on membranes containing cellulose acetate powder, produced in Egypt. The powder, in combination with other components, binds the salt particles as they pass through, making the technique useful for desalinating seawater.

  • NOAA: El Niño may accelerate nuisance flooding

    Nuisance flooding causes public inconveniences such as frequent road closures, overwhelmed storm water systems, and compromised infrastructure. The extent of nuisance flooding depends on multiple factors, including topography and land cover. According to a new NOAA report issued yesterday, many mid-Atlantic and West Coast communities could see the highest number of nuisance flooding days on record through April due to higher sea levels and more frequent storm surge, compounded by the strengthening El Niño, which is likely to continue into the spring. These communities may experience a 33 to 125 percent increase in the number of nuisance flooding days, the report said.

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  • Army Corps of Engineers risk reduction projects prevent $13.3 billion in flood damages

    May 2015 was the wettest month on record for both Texas and Oklahoma, and set numerous records throughout the region. Continuing rains from Tropical Storm Bill in June resulted in Army Corps of Engineers flood risk reduction reservoirs and other systems put through a rigorous test to hold the floodwaters and protect local communities and downstream areas. According to recent calculations by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials with the Southwestern Division in Dallas, the Corps flood risk reduction projects in the south central and southwestern United States prevented an estimated $13.3 billion in damages to local communities and infrastructure during the May-June 2015 flood event.

  • 2015 drought costs for California agriculture: Loss of $1.84 billion, 10,100 jobs

    The drought is tightening its grip on California agriculture, squeezing about 30 percent more workers and cropland out of production than in 2014, according to the latest drought impact report. In 2015, the state’s agricultural economy will lose about $1.84 billion and 10,100 seasonal jobs because of the drought, the report estimated, with the Central Valley hardest hit. The heavy reliance on groundwater comes at ever-increasing energy costs as farmers pump deeper and drill more wells. Some of the heavy pumping is in basins already in severe overdraft — where groundwater use greatly exceeds replenishment of aquifers — inviting further land subsidence, water quality problems, and diminishing reserves needed for future droughts.

  • Sea level rise: NASA watching waters rise right outside the front door – pt. 2

    The rate of sea level rise is faster now than at any time in the past 2,000 years, and that rate has doubled in the past two decades. If ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt as quickly as current measurements indicate, those numbers could become 21 to 24 inches by the 2050s and 43 to 49 inches by the 2080s. Half to two-thirds of NASA’s infrastructure and assets stand within sixteen feet of sea level, so NASA is facing the same problem faced by about 55 to 60 percent of U.S. citizens, who live in counties touching the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, or the Great Lakes. Across the space agency, from lab manager to center director to NASA administrator, people will have continually to ask the question: is it time to abandon this place and move inland? It is a question everyone with coastal property in America will eventually have to answer.

  • Strategic alliance to deliver behavioral analysis cybersecurity to market

    Ernst & Young LLP and Los Alamos National Laboratory have formed a strategic alliance to deliver what they describe as some of the most advanced behavioral cybersecurity tools available to the commercial market. The alliance comes at a watershed moment when increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks are inflicting significant economic, social, and even political damage to U.S. organizations. The tools developed by Los Alamos and delivered to the private sector by Ernst & Young LLP can help counter these threats by detecting them before they do deep and lasting damage.

  • NASA watching waters rise right outside the front door – pt. 1

    For the past two centuries, two trends have been steady and clear around the United States. Sea level has been rising, and more people have been moving closer to the coast. As the ocean has warmed, polar ice has melted, and porous landmasses have subsided, global mean sea level has risen by eight inches since 1870. The rate of sea level rise is faster now than at any time in the past 2,000 years, and that rate has doubled in the past two decades. If ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica continue to melt as quickly as current measurements indicate, those numbers could become twenty-one to twenty-four inches by the 2050s and forty-three to forty-nine inches by the 2080s. About 55 to 60 percent of U.S. citizens live in counties touching the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, or the Great Lakes. A recent study by business and finance leaders found that $66 billion to $106 billion worth of coastal property is likely to sit below sea level by 2050. The nation’s problem is also NASA’s problem, because half to two-thirds of NASA’s infrastructure and assets stand within sixteen feet of sea level.

  • Power safety in data centers

    Power and thermal management have become a critical priority in data centers, which can use as much electricity as a small town. Energy and power vulnerabilities pose serious security threats to data centers, but so far little has been done to address these issues. A DHS grant will allow researchers to investigate energy and power safety in data centers.

  • What would it take to end California’s drought?

    The excitement about a potentially rain-bearing El Niño is building, and hopes for a swift end to California’s ongoing drought are multiplying. At the same time, many of us who have worked extensively on water issues in the state fear the momentum and progress made on much-needed water reforms will be lost. This will be unfortunate, because California’s current water situation offers an invitation to expand how we think about water and drought conditions. A more nuanced perspective about what drought means and our water needs can help continue the momentum on the shifts, such as conservation measures and groundwater management, needed to deal with what is certainly an uncertain future.

  • Predicting how much energy waves will be bringing

    Intermittency is one of the problems affecting renewable energies, including marine energy: sometimes there is a lot; other times itis in short supply. To properly manage sea energy and incorporate it into the mains, it is helpful to know when the waves are expected to be bringing sufficient power. Researchers have developed various models for predicting the amount of wave energy for the Bay of Biscay, by using a technique called random forests.

  • Protecting Earth from asteroid impact

    Asteroids approaching our planet travel at up to thirty kilometers per second. At that speed, a body with a diameter of only 100 meters could have major consequences for our civilization. Scientists cannot say when the next major asteroid will hit Earth, but it is certain that it will happen sometime in the future. An international team of researchers is hoping to head the next one off. It is a major EU-funded initiative that pulls together all the latest science and combines laboratory experiments with computer modelling work. The ultimate aim of this effort is to develop some definitive plan to knock massive asteroids out of their Earth-bound orbit.