Environmental Policy

Mysterious Rise in Ocean Salinity
September 13, 2012 06:13 AM - RICHARD MATTHEWS, Global Warming is Real

Scientists have observed unexpected changes in the seawater salinity and they are increasingly concerned about the potential impact on ocean currents. The salinity of seawater can accelerate the water cycle which can cause extreme weather events like floods and drought. To investigate the issue of ocean salinity scientists have boarded the research vessel Knorr, which set sail on September 6, 2012. NASA’s Aquarius instrument is part of a separate research project that has been measuring seawater salinity from space since August 2011. In addition to ocean salinity, researchers are exploring the water cycle which involves the ways that water circulates between the Earth’s oceans, atmosphere, and land. This process involves precipitation and return to the atmosphere by evaporation and transpiration.

If Corporations Are People, Then Why Not Rivers?
September 12, 2012 09:12 AM - RP Siegel, Triple Pundit

In 1982, filmmaker Godfrey Reggio released a film called KOYAANISQATSI. The title is the Hopi word for "life out of balance," and it deals with the relationship between man and nature. I was reminded of this film when I read the news item about the government of New Zealand granting legal personhood to the Whanganui River.

Global Auto Production Driving to New Record
September 12, 2012 06:10 AM - Michael Renner | VITAL SIGNS ONLINE, Worldwatch Institute

Production of passenger vehicles (cars and light trucks) rose from 74.4 million in 2010 to 76.8 million in 2011—and 2012 may bring an all-time high of 80 million or more vehicles, according to new research conducted for our Vital Signs Online service. Global sales of passenger vehicles increased from 75.4 million to 78.6 million over the same period, with a projected 81.8 million in 2012. The major driver of increased production and sales are the so-called emerging economies, especially China. Rising sales translate into ever-expanding fleets. An estimated 691 million passenger cars were on the world's roads in 2011. When both light- and heavy-duty trucks are included, the number rises to 979 million vehicles, which was 30 million more than just a year earlier. By the end of 2012, the global fleet could top 1 billion vehicles—one for every seven people on the planet.

Wind Power and Climate Change
September 11, 2012 09:02 AM - ScienceDaily

Though there is enough power in Earth's winds to be a primary source of near-zero emission electric power for the world, large-scale high altitude wind power generation is unlikely to substantially affect climate. That is the conclusion of a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory climate scientist and collaborators who studied the geophysical limits to global wind power in a paper appearing in the Sept. 9 edition of the journal Nature Climate Change. "The future of wind energy is likely to be determined by economic, political and technical constraints rather than geophysical limits," said Kate Marvel, lead author of the paper and a scientist in the Laboratory's Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison.

Shell begins offshore drilling in the Alaskan Arctic
September 10, 2012 04:44 PM - Jeremy Hance, MONGABAY.COM

With the approval of the Obama Administration, Royal Dutch Shell began drilling into the ocean floor of the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska yesterday morning. The controversial operation, which has been vehemently opposed by environmental and Native groups, will likely only last a few weeks this year until the Arctic winter sets in. The U.S. government has said that Shell must complete operations by September 24th, however the oil giant has asked for an extension. "We look forward to continued drilling progress throughout the next several weeks and to adding another chapter to Alaska’s esteemed oil and gas history," Shell wrote in an online statement. "We're proud to be offshore Alaska, and we're extremely proud of the preparation we've put in place to do it right." Extreme weather, floating ice, and remoteness are just a few of the challenges that faces any fossil fuel exploitation in the Arctic, and environmental groups say Shell hasn't proven itself ready to drill safely. The oil giant, which spent $4 billion on Arctic oil drilling, has suffered costly and embarrassing delays all year, including an oil spill containment barge which is still harbored in Washington State and undergoing retrofitting.

Global Carbon Trading Takes a Big Step Forward
September 10, 2012 09:30 AM - RP Siegel, Triple Pundit

It has often been pointed out that our modern world could quickly become cleaner, safer, and more sustainable if only externalities, such as air pollution or carbon emissions, were internalized, so that they could be captured and factored into the economic equation. Then, as the argument goes, free market forces would provide the needed behavioral reforms and technological innovations.

What Caused the Significant Fish Mortality in Lake Erie?
September 8, 2012 08:23 AM - Miguel Llanos, NBC News

Tens of thousands of dead fish that washed up on Lake Erie beaches in Ontario, Canada -- and had locals wondering if something or someone had poisoned the water -- were likely killed by a lack of oxygen caused when lake sediment was stirred up, the province reported Friday. Water samples "do not show evidence of a manure spill or anything unusual in terms of contaminants," Ministry of Environment spokeswoman Kate Jordan told NBC News. Jordan said it wasn't known if the die-off was unprecedented, but that "it was a significant number -- tens of thousands." The fish were found along 25 miles of beach, with locals first coming across them on Monday.

Pillaging the Moon for the Promise of Space Energy
September 7, 2012 02:47 PM - Amy Shira Teitel, Discovery News

Between 1969 and 1972, Apollo astronauts brought just under 842 pounds of rocks and regolith back from the Moon. In 1985, engineers at the University of Wisconsin discovered significant amounts of Helium-3 in the lunar soil. Helium-3 is a stable isotope of helium -- the gas we use to fill party balloons with -- and is notable because it's missing a neutron, an important property that means we can used it in nuclear fusion reactions to produce clean energy. Unfortunately, our most plentiful stores of the isotope are a quarter of a million miles away. Current nuclear power plants use fission reactors, splitting uranium nuclei to release energy. This heat turns water into steam that drives a turbine to produce electricity. Unfortunately, radioactivity, spent nuclear fuel reprocessed into uranium, plutonium, and radioactive waste are by-products of this reaction. To get away from fission power, scientists have been working on nuclear fusion energy.

Creating Faster Charging Electric Car Batteries
September 7, 2012 08:41 AM - dave levitan, Yale Environment360

The amount of time it takes to recharge lithium-ion batteries has been a major impediment to consumer acceptance of electric vehicles. But a host of companies and researchers are working intensively to develop a battery that can recharge in 10 minutes and power a car for hundreds of miles. If stopping for gas took five or six hours, would you rethink that road trip? How about an hour? When it comes to electric vehicles, topping up the "tank" does indeed take a long time, one of the primary barriers to more widespread adoption of EVs. So it is no surprise that there is an aggressive push to improve batteries and charging infrastructure, with a goal of making a stop for a recharge no different than a stop for gas.

Deforestation affects rainfall, another reason to protect the rainforests
September 6, 2012 11:05 AM - Allison Winter, ENN

From regulating climate systems to offering food and medicines, to being home to many plants, animals, and indigenous people, rainforests are not only a local ecosystem but their benefits extend globally. Adding to its global effects is new research that shows rainforests have a huge impact on rainfall. A team from the University of Leeds and the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology found that air passing over tropical forests produces at least twice as much rain as air passing over little vegetation and can impact rainfall thousands of miles away.

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