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European study shows biofuel production can increase with low impacts

EU countries could increase their production of biofuels with a minimum impact on the environment, Utrecht University scientists concluded in a study published on Tuesday (13 January). 

Biofuels are the main green alternative to fossil fuels used in transport, but they compete with feed crops that share the same agricultural land.

As a consequence, forests are being turned into farmland to increase the terrestrial surface for planting more food crops, a phenomenon known as indirect land use change (ILUC). 

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For sea turtles, there's no place like magnetic home

Adult sea turtles find their way back to the beaches where they hatched by seeking out unique magnetic signatures along the coast, according to new evidence from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The findings will be reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on Jan. 15.

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How the environment shapes our immune system

Why did you get the flu this winter, but your co-workers didn’t? The answer, according to a new study of twins, may have less to do with your genes and more to do with your environment—including your past exposure to pathogens and vaccines. Our immune system is incredibly complex, with diverse armies of white blood cells and signal-sending proteins coursing through our veins, ready to mount an attack on would-be invaders. Everyone’s immune system is slightly different—a unique mixture of hundreds of these cells and proteins. But the main driver of this variation is unclear. Although scientists know that our immune system can adapt to our environment—that’s why vaccines work, for instance—it is also built by our genes.

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New data suggests sea levels are rising faster than previously thought

The acceleration in global sea level from the 20th century to the last two decades has been significantly larger than scientists previously thought, according to a new Harvard study. The study, co-authored by Carling Hay, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences (EPS), and Eric Morrow, a recent PhD graduate of EPS, shows that previous estimates of global sea-level rise from 1900-1990 had been over-estimated by as much as 30 percent. 

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Bolt EV concept car from GM could help mainstream electric cars

Concept cars at automobile shows generally offer the following: great opps for selfies, dreams over driving a vehicle that will never exist and, of course, the occasional eye roll. But this week at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, one concept car dazzled because of its design and its potential to transform the automobile industry: General Motors’ (GM) Chevrolet Bolt EV, which could hit the market as soon as 2017.

The Bolt is a huge step closer toward the holy grail of electric vehicles (EVs): affordability and sustainability — the latter of which in this case is defined by range, the current bugaboo of most EVs. Sure, we love Tesla for its phenomenal design and range of 265 miles between charges. Unfortunately, the sticker price, which ranges between $70,000 and $90,000, is out of range of most of our budgets. GM’s Chevy Spark EV could be a car for the rest of us, with a price of about $20,000 after federal rebates. But with a range of about 82 miles, it fails to snag interest from most consumers due to that massive hurdle: “range anxiety.”

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Study Finds New Toxic Contaminants In Oil And Gas Wastewater

Scientists have discovered high levels of two potentially hazardous contaminants, ammonium and iodide, in wastewater being discharged or spilled into streams and rivers from oil and gas operations.

Levels of contamination were just as high in wastewater coming from conventional oil and gas wells as from hydraulically fractured shale gas wells.

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Salting Roads takes a Toll on the Environment

The United States has a salt problem, and it extends well beyond the excessive sodium we consume in our diets. In the winter months, municipalities rely on dumping salt on the roads to minimize the effects of ice. Altogether, the U.S. uses ten times the amount of salt on roadways than it does in the processed foods we consume. While the salt may help to keep drivers safe, it does come at a cost:

1. It Increases Our Own Salt Consumption

You can throw salt down on roads, but you can’t force it to stay there. In due time, salt makes its ways into nearby waterways where it lingers. As a result, a lot of the water we wind up drinking has higher levels of salt than it would otherwise. Vox cites a study that finds 84% of city-adjacent streams have higher levels of chloride thanks specifically to these road-salting techniques. Apparently, during the months following salted roads, 29% of these streams have more salt than the federal “safety limits” for drinking water allow.

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Are the US drinking water standards outdated?

Changes in drinking water quality in the 21st Century are coming from a myriad of circumstances, and not all are for the best. Top contenders for why water-drinking quality might become suspect to the average consumer include California's drought conditions, the technology of fracking, and the nationwide aging infrastructure of rusty, degrading pipes.

Citing these and other relatively recent scenarios, Andrea Dietrich, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, and her colleague Gary A. Burlingame of the Philadelphia Water Department, are calling for a critical review and rethinking of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) secondary standards for maintaining consumers' confidence in tap water as well as in its sensory quality.

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How does rain cause that earthy odor?

Ever notice an earthy smell in the air after a light rain? Now scientists at MIT believe they may have identified the mechanism that releases this aroma, as well as other aerosols, into the environment.

Using high-speed cameras, the researchers observed that when a raindrop hits a porous surface, it traps tiny air bubbles at the point of contact. As in a glass of champagne, the bubbles then shoot upward, ultimately bursting from the drop in a fizz of aerosols.

The team was also able to predict the amount of aerosols released, based on the velocity of the raindrop and the permeability of the contact surface.

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Britain brings back the battery-powered train

The first battery-powered train to run on Britain’s rail network in more than half a century is to enter passenger service this week. The pioneering engine marks an important milestone in the project to demonstrate the viability of an eco-friendly battery-powered train for the twenty-first century.

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