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Geoengineering - blessing or curse?
February 15, 2015 10:20 AM - Clive Hamilton, the Ecologist

The geoengineering genie should remain firmly stopped up in its bottle until a robust case is made for letting it out, writes Clive Hamilton - and that's something the NRC's new report signally fails to achieve, providing no rationale for deploying the technology, or even experimenting with it.

An essential mistake of the report is the unwillingness to recognise that field experiments that do not change the physical environment can radically change the social and political environment.

The Future of Droughts in the US Central Plains and Southwest
February 13, 2015 08:51 AM - Jeremy Hance, MONGABAY.COM

In the recent film Interstellar, a mysterious phenomenon known as "the blight" is wiping out agriculture around the world until only corn—for some reason—survives. Humanity is on the brink of starvation. While the blight may be science fiction, global warming is not, and a new study finds that future warming could decimate the U.S.'s Central Plains and Southwest regions over the next century, topping even the worst drought of the last thousand years. "I was honestly surprised at just how dry the future is likely to be," said co-author Toby Ault at Cornell University. The research, published in the first edition of Science Advances, found that future drought conditions are likely to exceed a megadrought that swept through the western U.S. in the 12th and 13th Centuries. 

Children in cities have increased risk of neurological damage due to air pollution
February 12, 2015 08:47 AM - University of Montana

Pollution in many cities threatens the brain development in children. Findings by University of Montana Professor Dr. Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas, MA, MD, Ph.D., and her team of researchers reveal that children living in megacities are at increased risk for brain inflammation and neurodegenerative changes, including Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Calderón-Garcidueñas’ findings are detailed in a paper titled “Air pollution and children: Neural and tight junction antibodies and combustion metals, the role of barrier breakdown and brain immunity in neurodegeneration.” 

Plant turns cow manure to ethanol
February 11, 2015 07:53 AM - Leon Kaye , Triple Pundit

Tulare County, California, recently surpassed nearby Fresno County as the top agriculture-producing county in terms of economic value within the U.S. It’s also the country’s top dairy producing county. The result has been more investment and economic growth in a rapidly booming area already home to 450,000 people.

But there is also a downside to the local dairy industry’s continued surge: The San Joaquin Valley suffers from some of worst air pollution in the U.S., and cow effluent is a threat to the region’s already troubled watersheds.

19,500 square miles of polar ice melts into oceans each year
February 11, 2015 07:43 AM - ClickGreen Staff, ClickGreen

Sea ice increases in Antarctica do not make up for the accelerated Arctic sea ice loss of the last three decades, according to the stark findings of a new NASA study. As a whole, the planet has been shedding sea ice at an average annual rate of 13,500 square miles (35,000 square kilometers) since 1979, the equivalent of losing an area of sea ice larger than the state of Maryland every year. Sea ice increases in Antarctica do not make up for the accelerated Arctic sea ice loss of the last three decades, according to the stark findings of a new NASA study.


New Study Predicts Plant Responses to Drought
February 10, 2015 04:26 PM - USGS Newsroom

A new U.S. Geological Survey study shows how plants’ vulnerability to drought varies across the landscape; factors such as plant structure and soil type where the plant is growing can either make them more vulnerable or protect them from declines. Recent elevated temperatures and prolonged droughts in many already water-limited regions throughout the world, including the southwestern U.S., are likely to intensify according to future climate model projections.

Earliest evidence of human-produced air pollution linked to Spanish conquest of the Inca
February 9, 2015 03:55 PM - Pam Frost Gorder, The Ohio State University

In the 16th century, during its conquest of South America, the Spanish Empire forced countless Incas to work extracting silver from the mountaintop mines of Potosí, in what is now Bolivia—then the largest source of silver in the world. The Inca already knew how to refine silver, but in 1572 the Spanish introduced a new technology that boosted production many times over and sent thick clouds of lead dust rising over the Andes for the first time in history. Winds carried some of that pollution 500 miles northwest into Peru, where tiny remnants of it settled on the Quelccaya Ice Cap. There it stayed—buried under hundreds of years of snow and ice—until researchers from The Ohio State University found it in 2003.

The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog race and climate change
February 8, 2015 07:50 AM - EMILY SCHWING, NPR

For more than 30 years, the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog race, which begins Saturday, has followed the Yukon River between Whitehorse, Canada, and Fairbanks, Alaska.

A little open water along the Yukon Quest trail is nothing new, but in recent years, long unfrozen stretches of the Yukon River have shaken even the toughest mushers.

Last year, musher Hank DeBruin of Ontario had stopped along the Yukon River to rest his dog team in the middle of the night, when the ice started to break up.

Seafloor Volcano Pulses May Alter Climate
February 6, 2015 08:42 AM - The Earth Institute - Columbia University

Vast ranges of volcanoes hidden under the oceans are presumed by scientists to be the gentle giants of the planet, oozing lava at slow, steady rates along mid-ocean ridges. But a new study shows that they flare up on strikingly regular cycles, ranging from two weeks to 100,000 years—and, that they erupt almost exclusively during the first six months of each year. The pulses—apparently tied to short- and long-term changes in earth’s orbit, and to sea levels--may help trigger natural climate swings. Scientists have already speculated that volcanic cycles on land emitting large amounts of carbon dioxide might influence climate; but up to now there was no evidence from submarine volcanoes. The findings suggest that models of earth’s natural climate dynamics, and by extension human-influenced climate change, may have to be adjusted.

Plants Can be 'Reprogrammed' for Drought Tolerance
February 4, 2015 03:02 PM - Iqbal Pittalwala, University of California, Riverside

Crops and other plants are constantly faced with adverse environmental conditions, such as rising temperatures (2014 was the warmest year on record) and lessening fresh water supplies, which lower yield and cost farmers billions of dollars annually. Drought is a major environmental stress factor affecting plant growth and development.  When plants encounter drought, they naturally produce abscisic acid (ABA), a stress hormone that inhibits plant growth and reduces water consumption.  Specifically, the hormone turns on a receptor (special protein) in plants when it binds to the receptor like a hand fitting into a glove, resulting in beneficial changes – such as the closing of guard cells on leaves, called stomata, to reduce water loss – that help the plants survive.

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