Environmental Policy

Current atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations likely commit to warmings greater than 1.5C over land
July 27, 2016 10:20 AM - Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Current levels of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations already commit the planet to air temperatures over many land regions being eventually warmed by greater than 1.5°C, according to new research published today (27 July 2016) in the journal Scientific Reports.

The results of the new study have implications for international discussions of what constitutes safe global temperature thresholds, such as 1.5°C or 2°C of warming since pre-industrial times. The expected extra warming over land will influence how we need to design some cities. It could also impact on the responses of trees and plants, and including crops.

The research was carried out by scientists from the UK's Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the University of Exeter, UK.

The research team found two main reasons behind the result.

Unlocking the secret to cheaper solar power
July 25, 2016 01:23 PM - American Institute of Physics (AIP) via ScienceDaily

As climate change garners more attention around the world, scientists at the University of Virginia and Cornell University have made critical advances in understanding the physical properties of an emerging class of solar cells that have the potential to dramatically lower the cost of solar energy.

Solar cells remain a focal point of scientific investigation because the sun offers the most abundant source of energy on earth. The concern, however, with conventional solar cells made from silicon is their cost. Even with recent improvements, they still require a significant amount of electricity and industrial processing to be manufactured.

In 2009, energy researchers turned their attention to a class of materials called "metal halide perovskites," or MHPs. They are sprayed on like paint onto solid objects, says Joshua Choi, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the University of Virginia. As the solution dries, the MHPs crystallize into a thin film that can be used to capture energy in a solar cell.

'Perfect storm' brought sea louse epidemic to BC salmon
July 20, 2016 04:52 PM - University of Toronto via ScienceDaily

High ocean temperatures and poor timing of parasite management likely led to an epidemic of sea lice in 2015 throughout salmon farms in British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Strait, a University of Toronto-led study has found.

The sea lice spread to migrating juvenile wild salmon, resulting in the highest numbers of sea lice observed on wild salmon in a decade.

In spring of 2015, a team of U of T ecologists led by postdoctoral researchers Andrew Bateman and Stephanie Peacock found that more than 70 per cent of fish the team sampled in the Strait's Broughton Archipelago had at least one sea louse: the highest prevalence of such parasites since 2005.

"It was sort of a perfect storm of environmental conditions and mismanagement of treatment," says Peacock, a postdoctoral fellow in the U of T's Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology when the research was conducted. "A lot of people talk about how sea lice are natural, but in farms, you have these parasites in larger numbers. Juvenile wild salmon are then exposed as they migrate past these areas."

Birds on top of the world, with nowhere to go
July 20, 2016 10:57 AM - University of Queensland via EurekAlert!

Climate change could make much of the Arctic unsuitable for millions of migratory birds that travel north to breed each year, according to a new international study published today inGlobal Change Biology.

The University of Queensland School of Biological Sciences' researcher Hannah Wauchope said that suitable breeding conditions for Arctic shorebirds could collapse by 2070.

"This means that countries throughout the world will have fewer migratory birds reaching their shores," Ms Wauchope said.

Arctic breeding shorebirds undertake some of the longest known migratory journeys in the animal kingdom, with many travelling more than 20,000 kilometres per year to escape the northern winter.

The bar-tailed godwit flies from Alaska to New Zealand in a single flight of 12,000 kilometres without landing.

The study predicts that, in a warming world, migratory birds will become increasingly restricted to small islands in the Arctic Ocean as they retreat north.

NASA science flights target melting Arctic Sea ice
July 19, 2016 05:22 PM - NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center via ScienceDaily

This summer, with sea ice across the Arctic Ocean shrinking to below-average levels, a NASA airborne survey of polar ice just completed its first flights. Its target: aquamarine pools of melt water on the ice surface that may be accelerating the overall sea ice retreat.

NASA's Operation IceBridge completed the first research flight of its new 2016 Arctic summer campaign on July 13. The science flights, which continue through July 25, are collecting data on sea ice in a year following a record-warm winter in the Arctic.

The summer flights will map the extent, frequency and depth of melt ponds, the pools of melt water that form on sea ice during spring and summer. Recent studies have found that the formation of melt ponds early in the summer is a good predictor of the sea ice yearly minimum extent in September: if there are more ponds on the ice earlier in the melt season, they reduce the ability of sea ice to reflect solar radiation, which leads to more melt.

2016 climate trends continue to break records
July 19, 2016 04:44 PM - NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center via ScienceDaily

Two key climate change indicators -- global surface temperatures and Arctic sea ice extent -- have broken numerous records through the first half of 2016, according to NASA analyses of ground-based observations and satellite data.

Each of the first six months of 2016 set a record as the warmest respective month globally in the modern temperature record, which dates to 1880, according to scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. The six-month period from January to June was also the planet's warmest half-year on record, with an average temperature 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the late nineteenth century.

Five of the first six months of 2016 also set records for the smallest respective monthly Arctic sea ice extent since consistent satellite records began in 1979, according to analyses developed by scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland. The one exception, March, recorded the second smallest extent for that month.

Using urban pigeons to monitor lead pollution
July 19, 2016 02:02 PM - University of California – Davis via EurekAlert!

Tom Lehrer sang about poisoning them, but those pigeons in the park might be a good way to detect lead and other toxic compounds in cities. A new study of pigeons in New York City shows that levels of lead in the birds track with neighborhoods where children show high levels of lead exposure.

"Pigeons breathe the same air, walk the same sidewalks, and often eat the same food as we do. What if we could use them to monitor possible dangers to our health in the environment, like lead pollution?" said Rebecca Calisi, now an assistant professor in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior at the University of California, Davis, who conducted the study with undergraduate student Fayme Cai while at Barnard College, Columbia University. The work is published July 18 in the journal Chemosphere.

Decades after it was banned from paint and gasoline, lead pollution remains a significant concern. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene carries out routine screening of children in areas of the city identified as hot spots for lead contamination.

Offshore wind powers ahead as prices drop 30% below nuclear
July 19, 2016 09:30 AM - Kieran Cooke, The Ecologist

The cost of offshore wind power in the North Sea is 30% lower than that of new nuclear, writes Kieran Cooke - helped along by low oil and steel prices, reduced maintenance and mass production. By 2030 the sector is expected to supply 7% of Europe's electricity. Output from the Dogger Bank project will be 1.2 GW (gigawatts) - enough to power more than a million homes. Next year, a 150-turbine wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands is due to start operating, and other schemes along the Dutch coast are in the works. Denmark, Sweden and Portugal are major investors in offshore wind, and China has ambitious plans for the sector. Wind farms - both onshore and offshore - are a key ingredient in renewable energy policy, and an important element in the battle against climate change. WindEurope, an offshore wind industry group, says that at the present rate of installations it's likely Europe will be producing about 7% of its electricity from offshore wind by 2030.

Offshore wind developers benefit from falling costs

By some calculations, all this building work would seem to make little economic sense. Fossil fuel prices are low on the world market, and constructing offshore wind farms several kilometres out at sea, in often treacherous conditions, has traditionally been an expensive business.

Calcification: Does it pay off in the future ocean?
July 15, 2016 03:13 PM - University of Southampton via ScienceDaily

An international research team has calculated the costs and benefits of calcification for phytoplankton and the impact of climate change on their important role in the world's oceans.

Single-celled phytoplankton play an important role in marine biogeochemical cycling, in marine food webs and in the global climate system. Coccolithophores are a particular group that cover themselves with calcium carbonate shields, known as coccoliths. Some wrap themselves in an impenetrable coat of coccoliths, some make coccoliths in the form of sharp spikes, some use them as parasols against the sun and some form funnel-shaped light collectors.

But this requires a lot of energy -- and the price for the artful armour could rise further due to global change. With the help of a new model, the researchers analysed the energetic costs and benefits of calcification. The results, published in the current issue of the journal Science Advances, suggest that the ecological niche for calcifying algae will become narrower in the future.

Solar on the best UK sites is competitive with cheap coal
July 15, 2016 02:18 PM - Chris Goodall, The Ecologist

Last week a massive 350-hectare open cast coal mine at Druridge Bay won planning permission. This got Chris Goodall wondering: what if the land was turned into a solar farm instead? His surprise discovery: solar power on England's south coast already costs no more than coal - and it's only getting cheaper.

A week ago Northumberland council gave planning permission to a new open-cast coal mine at Druridge on the coastline just north of Newcastle.

About 3 million tonnes of coal will be extracted over a five to seven-year period from an area of around 350 hectares, including storage space. (350 hectares is about 1.4 square miles)

The environmental objections to the plan are striking. For example, the owners predict about 170 HGV movements a day along local roads during the whole lifetime of the project. The landscape impact is also severe although the developers say they will ensure that the local sandy beaches are unaffected.

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