• Plastics for Life

    This is no news flash, but plastics don't biodegrade. And yet almost 50% of it never sees a landfill. Worse, approximately 80% of the plastic debris in our oceans comes from the land. Plastics inevitably become part of our ecosystem from top to bottom. Of course, we think of the most pure environments as those in the highest mountaintops. The springs percolate into the headwaters on our mountain peaks, cascade down, hopping rocks and tumbling through forests into lakes, eventually emerging into larger rivers and ultimately out into the oceans. Along the way human influence affects their purity. Generally, we have hypothesized that water starts pure and becomes more polluted with each tier of drainage but recent research suggests that we are not starting with as clean a slate as we thought. >> Read the Full Article
  • Climate Change and Water Scarcity

    Using a novel methodological approach, scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) have introduced new estimates on how climate change will affect water availability. Access to freshwater in Africa and the Middle East is known to be scarce, but the Siberian tundra and Indian grasslands also lack freshwater. These areas along with dry pockets across the globe are expected to expand and create implications for their habitats and communities. The new study predicts that if global warming is limited to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, 500 million people could be subject to increased water scarcity. And at 5 degrees global warming almost all ice-free land might be affected by ecosystem change. >> Read the Full Article
  • Australian Environmental Politics in Denial

    Australia seems to be going backwards in time with regard to environmental politics. A startlingly high number of people there deny climate change. Most Australians do believe in it, but in a country that no longer has a science minister, the newly-elected conservative government is populated by "leaders" who believe that it is some kind of conspiracy. The media that the average Australian consumes is overwhelmingly populated by sources which are owned by people of a highly conservative and libertarian belief. Libertarianism—the belief that people should be free to do as they wish so long as they do not impinge on the freedom of others, is a decidedly human-centric philosophy and as such, large-scale environmental problems are generally not well-handled. In the minds of people like Rupert Murdoch, among others, environmental regulations are an unnecessary burden on people's freedom, and even if you don't really believe that, if that's what you read in the newspaper every day, then that's what you will be led to believe. >> Read the Full Article
  • Atmospheric aerosols and how they influence climate

    Climate models are evolving, and are getting more accurate, but they are still incomplete. Our atmosphere is very complex, and there are factors that even current models don't address, or address with an in-complete knowledge of the physical processes involved. This leads to inaccuracies that create uncertainty in the results of climatic projections. Aerosols are an important part of atmospheric dynamics, and their mechanisms of formation are not fully understood. University of Leeds experts have helped scientists get a step closer to understanding how aerosol particles are formed in the atmosphere and the effect these particles have on our climate. Working with scientists from the CLOUD experiment at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), in Geneva, climate change experts from the University have shown that amines – atmospheric vapours closely related to ammonia, largely derived from activities such as animal husbandry – combine with sulphuric acid to form highly stable aerosol particles at rates similar to those observed in the lower atmosphere. >> Read the Full Article
  • What's holding up offshore wind energy in the US?

    In June, after years of offshore wind power projects being thwarted in the United States, the first offshore wind turbine began spinning off the U.S. coast. The turbine was not a multi-megawatt, 400-foot behemoth off of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, or Texas — all places where projects had long been proposed. Rather, the turbine was installed in Castine Harbor, Maine, rising only 60 feet in the air and featuring a 20-kilowatt capacity — enough to power only a few homes. But it was a turbine — finally. Offshore wind power in the U.S. has struggled mightily to rise from the waves, even as other renewable energy industries have steadily grown. The country now has more than 60,000 megawatts of onshore wind, but still just the lone offshore turbine, a pilot project run in part by researchers at the University of Maine. Meanwhile, Europe has left the U.S. far behind, installing its first offshore turbine in 1991 and growing rapidly in the past decade. To date, the countries of the European Union have built 1,939 offshore turbines with 6,040 megawatts of capacity. >> Read the Full Article
  • Climate models need to get small

    Better observational data and geographically precise climate models are needed to allow scientists to predict the effects of rising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at a local level, says a major climate change report. Deficiencies in these areas prevent reliable temperature and rainfall predictions being made on a regional scale, according to the report published this week (30 September) by Working Group I of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). >> Read the Full Article
  • Climate change could increase diarrheal disease in Botswana

    Climate change may increase the incidence of diarrheal disease in Botswana, according to a recent study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. "Diarrheal disease is a very important public health problem in Botswana," said lead author Kathleen Alexander, who led a unique 30-year analysis (1974-2003) on the incidence of diarrhea in Botswana. >> Read the Full Article
  • Climate Change May Increase Mercury Content in Fish

    Mercury pollution can be a serious health threat as once mercury enters our body, it acts as a neurotoxin, interfering with the brain and nervous system. Mercury is emitted to the air by power plants and other industrial facilities and becomes a serious threat when it settles into oceans. As the mercury enters waterways, naturally occurring bacteria absorb it and the pollutant makes it way up the food chain as larger fish consume smaller fish. As an example, mackerel, swordfish, tuna, and grouper rank high when it comes to mercury content. We have known about the effects of mercury in fish for some time now, however, looming changes in climate could make fish accumulate even more mercury, according to a study in the journal PLOS ONE. >> Read the Full Article
  • Phasing Down HFCs with the Montreal Protocol

    On September 27, U.S. President Barack Obama met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to discuss how to improve ties on a number of issues between the countries, including how to support efforts to phase-down the super greenhouse gases HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons). HFCs, primarily used in refrigeration, air conditioning, and foam blowing, are extremely harmful to the climate as they are hundreds and thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2). >> Read the Full Article
  • Running Hot and Cold in Iceland

    Iceland's economy runs hot and then cold—and then hot and cold again! And Icelanders like it that way. Created from a volcano more than 50million years ago, Iceland's environment is one of the harshest yet one of the kindest when it comes to energy. The island nation sits atop this natural heat pack and is, as a result, poised to become the first country in the world to run 100% on renewable energy. This is because the volcano is still active bubbling and ulcerating perpetually altering the landscape. The Icelandic people extract warm water and store it in tanks to provide an unlimited supply of free central heating. The heated water is extracted and placed into tanks where it is converted to steam. The pressurized steam then turns the turbines, which operate the country’s geothermal power stations providing electricity to the people and businesses of Iceland. This is very important for high tech companies that require an enormous amount of power to operate their equipment. In fact, more than half of the energy required to operate their computer servers and other high tech equipment is in the form of cooling equipment to temper the heat generated by the computers for their operation. Technology giants are beginning to get it. Facebook has relocated its server farm to Sweden and Google is operating out of Finland. This leaves other companies like Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and IBM to speculate. >> Read the Full Article