Ecosystems

Acoustic Sanctuaries for Marine Mammals
January 12, 2016 07:24 AM - Mike DiGirolamo, MONGABAY.COM

Imagine living in an environment of constant noise where you cannot get anything accomplished. Ocean noise pollution caused by shipping, oil and gas development, and other human activities is making this the reality for marine mammals in many places, interfering with their ability to detect prey and communicate with one another. Yet some areas of the ocean remain refuges of quiet. A new study has identified some of these acoustic sanctuaries off the coast of British Columbia in the hope that they may be protected.

California Methane Leak leads to State of Emergency
January 11, 2016 07:26 AM - Mike Gaworecki, MONGABAY.COM

An ongoing methane gas leak at a facility in Southern California — what’s been called “the nation’s biggest environmental disaster since the BP oil spill” — has officially been declared an emergency by Governor Jerry Brown.

Natural gas, or methane, first started leaking from Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon storage facility on October 23 last year.

Some 2,300 homes have been evacuated in nearby Porter Ranch, a neighborhood of Los Angeles, after residents began experiencing nosebleeds, rashes, headaches and other serious health impacts due to the gas leak and the sulfur-like smell that is blanketing their community.

Natural carbon sinks and their role in climate
January 10, 2016 11:32 AM - Mark Dwortzan | MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change

Protected areas such as rainforests occupy more than one-tenth of the Earth’s landscape, and provide invaluable ecosystem services, from erosion control to pollination to biodiversity preservation. They also draw heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it in plants and soil through photosynthesis, yielding a net cooling effect on the planet.

Determining the role protected areas play as carbon sinks — now and in decades to come — is a topic of intense interest to the climate-policy community as it seeks science-based strategies to mitigate climate change. Toward that end, a study in the journal Ambioestimates for the first time the amount of CO2 sequestered by protected areas, both at present and throughout the 21st century as projected under various climate and land-use scenarios.

Changing climate and reforestation
January 10, 2016 08:24 AM - AsociaciĆ³n RUVID via ScienceDaily

For the past six years, researchers at the Universitat Politènica de València (Polytechnic Univeristy of Valencia, UPV) have been studying the performance of twelve Aleppo pine varieties native to different regions of Spain in reforestation campaigns across three national forest areas. Different varieties or genotypes have different levels of resistance to cold and drought, which influence how well they perform in a given geographical region, and researchers wanted to find out which varieties worked best and where.

To do so, the different national varieties or genotypes were used to repopulate forest areas in La Hunde, Valencia (as the control region), in the drier Granja d'Escarp, Lleida, to the north and further inland in Tramacastiel, Teruel, where the climate is much cooler.

"The varieties from Inland Levante and La Mancha performed the best overall, while those from further south seem to be perfect for reforestation efforts in regions already affected by climate change," observes Antonio del Campo, researcher at the UPV's Institute of Water and Environmental Engineering (IIAMA).

How competition for sunlight shapes forest structure
January 8, 2016 07:20 AM - Princeton University via EurekAlert!

Despite their diversity, the structure of most tropical rainforests is highly predictable. Scientists have described the various sizes of the trees by a simple mathematical relationship called a power law.

In a new study using data from a rainforest in Panama, researchers determined that competition for sunlight is the underlying cause of this common structure, which is observed in rainforests around the globe despite differences in plant species and geography. The new finding can be used in climate simulations to predict how rainforests absorb excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Anthropogenic nitrogen being added to oceans far less than previously assumed
January 7, 2016 07:20 AM - Brown University via EurekAlert.

A new study finds that human activities are likely contributing far less nitrogen to the open ocean than many atmospheric models suggest. That's generally good news, but it also nullifies a potential side benefit to additional nitrogen, says Meredith Hastings, associate professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences at Brown University and one of the study's co-authors.

"People may not be polluting the ocean as much as we thought, which is a good thing," said Hastings, who is also a fellow at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. "However, additional nitrogen could potentially stimulate the ocean's ability to draw down carbon dioxide out the atmosphere, which might counteract carbon emissions to some extent. But if we're not adding as much nitrogen, we're not getting that potential side benefit in the carbon cycle."

Understanding oxygen concentrations 1.4 billion years ago
January 6, 2016 07:07 AM - University of Southern Denmark via EurekAlert!

Oxygen is crucial for the existence of animals on Earth. But, an increase in oxygen did not apparently lead to the rise of the first animals. New research shows that 1.4 billion years ago there was enough oxygen for animals - and yet over 800 million years went by before the first animals appeared on Earth.

The Mississippi flooding sets records
January 3, 2016 08:30 AM - Jon Edman, The Weather Channel

Record flooding along some tributaries after torrential post-Christmas weekend rain has sent the Mississippi River to levels not seen since the Great Flood of 1993, and that excess water will continue to flow downstream triggering flooding in the Lower Mississippi Valley into mid-late January.

In the past week or so, nearly a dozen locations have seen water levels on rivers or creeks rise to new record crests, including on parts of the Mississippi River and the Meramec River. You can find a full recap of the records set near the bottom of this article.

Good news about restoring river ecosystems
January 1, 2016 10:17 AM - Lizabeth Paulat, Care2, Care2

t is a commonly held belief that most ecosystems take about a lifetime to recover after damage is introduced by humans. However, researchers at Ohio State University are finding that initial recovery can be dramatic if the right conditions are present. The discovery was made while monitoring how dam removal impacted local species. 

The studies focus on the reintroduction of birds and salmon to the habitat. What they found was that if just birds were introduced, they tended to have low weight and poor numbers of offspring. However, when dams came down and salmon and fish were put together, both species flourished and impacted the surrounding ecosystem positively.

2015 Year in Review
December 31, 2015 07:10 AM - Mike Gaworecki, MONGABAY.COM

As 2015 comes to a close, Mongabay is looking back at the year that was. This year saw President Obama reject the Keystone pipeline as historic droughts and a vicious wildfire season wracked the western US and Canada. The world committed to climate action in Paris as Southeast Asia was choking on the worst Indonesian haze in years, Shell aborted its plans to drill in the Arctic for the “foreseeable” future, and ExxonMobil is being investigated for lying to the public about climate risks. Here, in no certain order, are the top 15 environmental stories of 2015.

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