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Urban development causes damage and loss of valuable ecosystems
May 14, 2015 06:29 AM - Harvard University

All land is not created equal. Some ecosystems do triple duty in the benefits they provide to society. Massachusetts forests, for example, filter public drinking water while also providing habitat for threatened species and storing carbon to combat climate change. 

Ecologists and conservation groups single out the hardest-working ecosystems – called “hotspots” – for their exceptional conservation value. A new study published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology reports that the number of ecosystem hotspots has increased in Massachusetts over the past decade, with more and more hotspots popping up in metro Boston. 

But, the study authors say, more hotspots may not be a good thing.

New study examines the air quality impacts of fracking wells
May 13, 2015 03:34 PM - Oregon State University

People living or working near active natural gas wells may be exposed to certain pollutants at higher levels than the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for lifetime exposure, according to scientists from Oregon State University and the University of Cincinnati.

The researchers found that hydraulic fracturing – a technique for releasing natural gas from below-ground rock formations – emits pollutants known as PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), including some that are linked with increased risk of cancer and respiratory ailments.

“Air pollution from fracking operations may pose an under-recognized health hazard to people living near them,” said the study’s coauthor Kim Anderson, an environmental chemist with OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Would you give up chocolate to save a friend?
May 13, 2015 12:06 PM - Emily Underwood, Science/AAAS

We’ve all heard how rats will abandon a sinking ship. But will the rodents attempt to save their companions in the process? A new study shows that rats will, indeed, rescue their distressed pals from the drink—even when they’re offered chocolate instead. They’re also more likely to help when they’ve had an unpleasant swimming experience of their own, adding to growing evidence that the rodents feel empathy.

40% of Honey Bee Colonies Lost Last Year
May 13, 2015 10:53 AM - University of Maryland

Beekeepers across the United States lost more than 40 percent of their honey bee colonies during the year spanning April 2014 to April 2015, according to the latest results of an annual nationwide survey led by a University of Maryland professor. While winter loss rates improved slightly compared to last year, summer losses—and consequently, total annual losses—were more severe. Commercial beekeepers were hit particularly hard by the high rate of summer losses, which outstripped winter losses for the first time in five years, stoking concerns over the long-term trend of poor health in honey bee colonies. 

Antarctic Ice Shelves found to be thinning from the top AND the bottom
May 13, 2015 06:57 AM - British Antarctic Survey

A decade-long scientific debate about what’s causing the thinning of one of Antarctica’s largest ice shelves is settled this week (Wednesday 13 May) with the publication of an international study in the journal The Cryosphere.

The Larsen C Ice Shelf — whose neighbours Larsen A and B, collapsed in 1995 and 2002 — is thinning from both its surface and beneath. For years scientists have been unable to determine whether it is warming air temperatures or warmer ocean currents that were causing the Antarctic Peninsula’s floating ice shelves to lose volume and become more vulnerable to collapse. This new study takes an important step forward in assessing Antarctica’s likely contribution to future sea-level rise.

Biofuels: the right crop at the right place
May 12, 2015 04:48 PM - Radboud University

Corn, wheat and rapeseed can be used to produce biofuels, such as bioethanol and biodiesel. According to recent findings by environmental scientists at Radboud University, the location of the agricultural lands used to grow these biofuel crops has a major impact on the greenhouse gas emission they ultimately produce. The study that arrived at this conclusion is due to be published by Nature Climate Change on 11 May.

Cycling vs. Car Transportation
May 12, 2015 01:19 PM - ENN Editor

What's more expensive? Owning a car or a bicycle? Answer seems obvious doesn't it? But how much more expensive are cars compared to bicycles? First, we need to consider not only the actual cost of the vehicle, but the hidden costs which can be related to air pollution, climate change, travel routes, noise, road wear, health, congestion, and time. Lucky for us, researchers have compared the costs and according to a Lund University study, traveling by car is six times more expensive for society and individuals.

No Sunscreen Needed
May 12, 2015 08:47 AM - ENN Editor

With summer sun right around the corner, it is important to be prepared and protect our skin from those potentially harmful rays. Whether you use sunscreen or set up an umbrella for shade at the beach, we should be proactive so we don't get sun-burn.

For us, we take precautions, but how do the rest of the animal kingdom fare? How can animal species spend their whole lives outdoors with no apparent concern about high levels of solar exposure?

According to researchers from Oregon State University, animals make their own sunscreen.

The findings, published in the journal eLife, found that many fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds can naturally produce a compound called gadusol, which among other biologic activities provides protection from the ultraviolet, or sun-burning component of sunlight.

The researchers also believe that this ability may have been obtained through some prehistoric, natural genetic engineering.

The environmental impacts of common consumer products
May 12, 2015 06:56 AM - ClickGreen Staff, ClickGreen

A new study estimates for the first time how much land and water well-known brands such as Apple, Kraft and Gap use in a year, and what’s needed to manufacture some of the products they sell.

Based on modelling by environmental data experts Trucost, the ‘Mind your step’ report published by Friends of the Earth examines the land and water ‘footprints’ of a range of diverse products including smartphones, leather boots, coffee, chicken curry ready-meals, t-shirts, and milk chocolate.

Vineyard Habitats Attract Butterflies
May 11, 2015 04:35 PM - Scott Weybright, Washington State University

Washington wine grape vineyards experimenting with sustainable pest management systems are seeing an unexpected benefit: an increase in butterflies. Over the years, loss in natural habitat has seen the decline in numbers of around 50 species of butterflies in eastern Washington. But in a recent Washington State University study published in the June issue of the Journal of Insect Conservation, researchers found that vineyards that create nearby natural habitats have three times the number of butterfly species and four times more butterflies than conventional vineyards.

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