Environmental Policy

Human health risks from hydroelectric projects
November 9, 2016 09:25 AM - Leah Burrows via Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

In a new study, Harvard University researchers find over 90 percent of potential new Canadian hydroelectric projects are likely to increase concentrations of the neurotoxin methylmercury in food webs near indigenous communities. 

The research forecasts potential human health impacts of hydroelectric projects and identifies areas where mitigation efforts, such as removing the top layer of soil before flooding, would be most helpful. The works uses factors such as soil carbon and reservoir design to forecast methylmercury increases for 22 hydroelectric reservoirs under consideration or construction in Canada.

Major advance in solar cells made from cheap, easy-to-use perovskite
November 8, 2016 10:38 AM - University of California, Berkeley

Solar cells made from an inexpensive and increasingly popular material called perovskite can more efficiently turn sunlight into electricity using a new technique to sandwich two types of perovskite into a single photovoltaic cell.

Perovskite solar cells are made of a mix of organic molecules and inorganic elements that together capture light and convert it into electricity, just like today’s more common silicon-based solar cells. Perovskite photovoltaic devices, however, can be made more easily and cheaply than silicon and on a flexible rather than rigid substrate. The first perovskite solar cells could go on the market next year, and some have been reported to capture 20 percent of the sun’s energy.

New Delhi Air Pollution Reaches Highest Level In 20 Years
November 7, 2016 03:20 PM - Yale Environment 360

Indian officials declared an emergency in New Delhi over the weekend as the capital city entered its second week with air pollution levels as high as 30 times above World Health Organization guidelines, several news outlets reported.

Construction sites have been closed, operations at a coal-fired power station halted, diesel generators stopped, and officials are preparing to reinstate traffic restrictions, all to reduce smog levels across the city, which have reached their highest levels in 20 years. Officials say field burning on nearby farmland and fireworks from the recent Diwali festival helped worsen the smog conditions. 

Biodiversity needs citizen scientists
November 3, 2016 07:49 PM - Linda See, IIASA

Could birdwatching or monitoring tree blossoms in your community make a difference in global environmental research? A new study says yes: citizen scientists have a vital role to play.

Citizen scientists are already providing large amounts of data for monitoring biodiversity, but they could do much more, according to a new study published in the journal Biological Conservation, which suggests that citizen science has the potential to contribute much more to regional and global assessments of biodiversity. Citizen scientists are regular people who provide data or input to science, for example by monitoring species in their community or examining satellite imagery for evidence of deforestation or land use change. 

“Citizen scientists are already contributing enormously to environmental science,” says IIASA researcher Linda See. “For example, a huge amount of species occurrence data is provided by members of the interested public. The question we addressed was, where are citizens contributing and where are they not, and how can we draw on this phenomenon to help fill the gaps in science?”

Can Radioactive Waste be Immobilized in Glass for Millions of Years?
November 3, 2016 11:26 AM - Todd B. Bates via Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

How do you handle nuclear waste that will be radioactive for millions of years, keeping it from harming people and the environment?

It isn’t easy, but Rutgers researcher Ashutosh Goel has discovered ways to immobilize such waste – the offshoot of decades of nuclear weapons production – in glass and ceramics.

Goel, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, is the primary inventor of a new method to immobilize radioactive iodine in ceramics at room temperature. He’s also the principal investigator (PI) or co-PI for six glass-related research projects totaling $6.34 million in federal and private funding, with $3.335 million going to Rutgers.

Adapting to climate change — a major challenge for forests
November 2, 2016 09:14 AM - Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL

Climate change means that trees germinating today will be living in a much-altered climate by the time they reach middle age. The expected changes are likely to hit them hard and threaten key forest functions in the decades ahead. However, appropriate management shall enable to increase the forest habitat's adaptability. This is shown by the results of the Forests and Climate Change research programme conducted by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment FOEN and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL since 2009.

Ghost Forests: How Rising Seas Are Killing Southern U.S. Woodlands
November 1, 2016 09:42 AM - Roger Drouin via Yale Environment 360

On a recent afternoon, University of Florida watershed ecologist David Kaplan and Ph.D. candidate Katie Glodzik hiked through the Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve, on the Big Bend coast of northwestern Florida. Not long ago, red cedar, live oaks, and cabbage palms grew in profusion on the raised “hammock island” forests set amid the preserve’s wetlands. But as the researchers walked through thigh-high marsh grass, the barren trunks of dead cedars were silhouetted against passing clouds. Dead snag cabbage palms stood like toothpicks snapped at the top. Other trees and shrubs, such as wax myrtle, had long been replaced by more salt-tolerant black needlerush marsh grass. 

In the right place at the right time
November 1, 2016 09:18 AM - Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research

Based on a unique dataset collected during a research cruise to the Irminger Sea in April 2015, a new paper reveals a strong link between atmospheric forcing, deep convection, ocean ventilation and anthropogenic carbon sequestration.

The Irminger Sea, a small ocean basin between Greenland and Iceland, is known for its harsh and extreme weather conditions during winter. Research cruises that  take measurements in the subpolar North Atlantic almost exclusively do so in summer, although the area is particularly interesting in the convectively active winter season.

See How Arctic Sea Ice Is Losing Its Bulwark Against Warming Summers
October 28, 2016 03:33 PM -

Arctic sea ice, the vast sheath of frozen seawater floating on the Arctic Ocean and its neighboring seas, has been hit with a double whammy over the past decades: as its extent shrunk, the oldest and thickest ice has either thinned or melted away, leaving the sea ice cap more vulnerable to the warming ocean and atmosphere.

“What we’ve seen over the years is that the older ice is disappearing,” said Walt Meier, a sea ice researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “This older, thicker ice is like the bulwark of sea ice: a warm summer will melt all the young, thin ice away but it can’t completely get rid of the older ice. But this older ice is becoming weaker because there’s less of it and the remaining old ice is more broken up and thinner, so that bulwark is not as good as it used to be.”

Super Emitters - are responsible for more than half of U.S. methane emissions
October 28, 2016 02:48 PM - Ker Than via Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences

The bulk of methane emissions in the United States can be traced to a small number of “super emitting” natural gas wells, according to a new study.

“We’re finding that when it comes to natural gas leaks, a 50/5 rule applies: That is, the largest 5 percent of leaks are typically responsible for more than 50 percent of the total volume of leakage,” said study co-author Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

The findings, published online in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, could lead to more efficient strategies for sampling emissions and fixing the most significant leaks, said Brandt, who is also a senior fellow at Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy. By focusing on finding and fixing the biggest emitters, companies can significantly reduce the amount of methane leaking into the atmosphere.

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