• Troubled flood insurance program traps homeowners in flood-prone areas

    The U.S. flood insurance program has repeatedly rebuilt some of the most flood-prone properties in the country, unintentionally setting a trap for owners of modest homes who would prefer to move out of harm’s way, according to a new national report. Today it is thousands of properties, but climate change and rising sea levels threaten to flood millions of properties in the coming decades. For every $100 the nation spends to rebuild homes with national flood insurance funds, FEMA spends just $1.72 to better protect people by moving them to safer, less flood-prone land.

  • Shifting storms threaten once placid areas with extreme waves, extensive damage

    The world’s most extensive study of the impacts of coastal storm fronts in a changing climate has found that rising seas are no longer the only threat. The study of a major storm front striking the coast has revealed a previously unrecognized danger from climate change: as storm patterns fluctuate, waterfront areas once thought safe are likely to be hammered and damaged as never before.

  • Strategic threat: Russia’s use of the “energy weapon” against Western Europe

    In 2016, Russian gas imports equaled 23 percent of total U.K. gas demand, 25 percent in France, 40 percent in Italy, 55 percent in Denmark, 58 percent in the Czech Republic, 62 percent in Germany and Hungary, 64 percent in Poland, 70 percent in Austria, and 84 percent in Slovakia. Although it has not been widely successful to date in the former Soviet zone, Russia’s use of the “energy weapon” against Western European countries in various forms still constitutes a strategic threat that warrants close attention from policymakers, experts say.

  • Aging power plants provide U.S. with environmental risks, economic opportunities

    When it comes to the current plans to retire U.S. power plants, researchers believe we are “running towards a cliff with no fence.” The researchers examined more than a century of power plant construction and retirement data. They found that power plant retirement trends will complicate achieving long-term carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reduction targets and require a significant increase in capital investments. Additionally, a shift in investment emphasis from adding megawatts of generating capacity at low cost to reducing tons of CO2 emissions is creating an imbalance that may pressure grid reliability over the next two decades.

  • Current water use for food production is unsustainable

    About 40 percent of the water used for irrigation are unsustainable withdrawals that violate so-called environmental flows of rivers, a new study shows for the first time. If these volumes were to be re-allocated to the ecosystems, crop production would drop by at least 10 percent on half of all irrigated land, especially in Central and South Asia. Improvement of irrigation practices can sustainably compensate for such losses at global scale. More integrated strategies, including rainwater management could even achieve a 10 percent net gain of production.

  • U.S. electric grid remains vulnerable to natural disasters, cyber- and physical attacks

    The grid remains vulnerable to diverse threats that can potentially cause extensive damage and result in large-area, prolonged outages that could cost billions of dollars and cause loss of life, the report found. Experts recommend ways to make the grid more resilient through the development and demonstration of technologies and organizational strategies that minimize the likelihood that outages will happen, reduce the impacts and speed recovery if they do, all the while developing mechanisms for continual improvements based on changing threats.

  • 20-story earthquake-safe buildings made from wood

    Engineering researchers are putting a two-story wooden structure through a series of powerful earthquake simulations, using a lab shake table. The goal is to gather the data required to design wood buildings as tall as twenty stories that do not suffer significant damage during large earthquakes.

  • Building to better weather the storm

    The Atlantic hurricane season has officially begun and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting “above normal” storm activity this year. That could mean significant damage to coastal communities — some of which are still recovering from last year’s hurricane season. New dashboard developed by the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub helps builders calculate the breakeven cost of hazard mitigation in hurricane-prone areas.

  • Treated fracking wastewater may pollute Pennsylvania water sources for years

    Given Pennsylvania’s abundant natural resources, it’s no surprise that the Commonwealth has become a mecca for hydraulic fracturing. Researchers, however, have recently discovered that releasing millions of gallons of treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater each year into area surface waters may have longer-lasting effects than originally thought.

  • U.K. energy firms hacked by Russian government hackers: U.K. spy agency

    A leaked U.K. government memo says that in the wake of the 8 June general election, the U.K. energy industry is “likely to have been compromised” by Russian government hackers. The report, produced by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) – the British equivalent of the U.S. NSA — warns that the British intelligence service had spotted connections “from multiple U.K. IP addresses to infrastructure associated with advanced state-sponsored hostile threat actors.”

  • Identifying global hotspots for water conflict

    More than 1,400 new dams or water diversion projects are planned or already under construction and many of them are on rivers flowing through multiple nations, fueling the potential for increased water conflict between some countries. A new analysis uses a comprehensive combination of social, economic, political and environmental factors to identify areas around the world most at-risk for “hydro-political” strife.

  • Climate change to deplete some U.S. water basins, reduce irrigated crop yields

    A new study by MIT climate scientists, economists, and agriculture experts finds that certain hotspots in the country will experience severe reductions in crop yields by 2050, due to climate change’s impact on irrigation. The most adversely affected region, according to the researchers, will be the Southwest. Already a water-stressed part of the country, this region is projected to experience reduced precipitation by midcentury. Less rainfall to the area will mean reduced runoff into water basins that feed irrigated fields.

  • Groundwater pumping drying up Great Plains streams

    Farmers in the Great Plains of Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, and the panhandle of Texas produce about one-sixth of the world’s grain, and water for these crops comes from the High Plains Aquifer — often known as the Ogallala Aquifer — the single greatest source of groundwater in North America. If pumping practices are not modified, scientists warn that these habitats will continue to shrink, and the fish populations along with them.

  • Extreme coastal sea levels more likely

    Extreme sea levels are typically caused by a combination of high tides, storm surges, and in many cases waves, Wahl said. When an extreme event collides with continually rising seas, it takes a less intense storm, such as a Category I hurricane, to inflict as much coastal damage as a Category II or III storm would have had when the seas were lower. Because of the rising sea levels, which research has confirmed has occurred steadily during the past century and is expected to accelerate in the future, extreme events that are now expected to happen, on average, only once every hundred years, could occur every decade or even every year, in many places by 2050, the study said.

  • “Smart” transformers could make reliable smart grid a reality

    The idea of a smart grid that can handle power flows not just from the power company to our homes, but also back from our homes to the power company has been around for years. Among other benefits, such a grid would improve efficient use of renewable energy and storage. But, to date, the smart grid has been mostly conceptual. The new study indicates that it could move from concept to reality in the near future, using technology that already exists. The key technology is solid-state transformers (SST).