• Wetlands and agriculture, not fossil fuels could be causing a global rise in methane

    Research published today in the American Geophysical Union’s journal Global Biogeochemical Cyclesshows that recent rises in levels of methane in our atmosphere is being driven by biological sources, such as swamp gas, cow burps, or rice fields, rather than fossil fuel emissions.

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  • Soil will absorb less atmospheric carbon than expected this century, study finds

    By adding highly accurate radiocarbon dating of soil to standard Earth system models, environmental scientists from the University of California, Irvine and other institutions have learned a dirty little secret: The ground will absorb far less atmospheric carbon dioxide this century than previously thought.

    Researchers used carbon-14 data from 157 sample sites around the world to determine that current soil carbon is about 3,100 years old -- rather than the 450 years stipulated by many Earth system models.

    "This work indicates that soils have a weaker capacity to soak up carbon than we have been assuming over the past few decades," said UCI Chancellor's Professor of Earth system science James Randerson, senior author of a new study on the subject to be published in the journal Science. "It means we have to be even more proactive in finding ways to cut emissions of fossil fuels to limit the magnitude and impacts of climate warming."

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  • Soil management may help stabilize maize yield in the face of climate change

    How will we feed our growing population in the face of an increasingly extreme climate? Many experts suggest the answer lies in breeding novel crop varieties that can withstand the increases in drought, heat, and extreme rainfall events predicted in the not-too-distant future. But breeding is only part of the equation, according to new research from the University of Illinois and several collaborating institutions across the Midwestern U.S.

    "It might not be necessary to put all the stress of climate adaptation and mitigation on new varieties. Instead, if we can manage agroecosystems more appropriately, we can buffer some of the effects of climate instability," says U of I and USDA Agricultural Research Service ecologist Adam Davis.

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  • Monsanto and Bayer: food and agriculture just took a turn for the worst

    Bayer's $66 billion takeover of Monsanto represents another big click on the ratchet of corporate power over farming and food, writes Colin Todhunter. With the 'big six' of global agribusiness now set to turn into the 'even bigger three', farmers and consumers are facing more GMOs and pesticides, less choice, and deeper price gouging. Agroecology has never looked more attractive.

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  • 700-year-old West African soil technique could help mitigate climate change

    A farming technique practised for centuries by villagers in West Africa, which converts nutrient-poor rainforest soil into fertile farmland, could be the answer to mitigating climate change and revolutionising farming across Africa.

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  • Judge rules: no right to know hazardous pesticide ingredients

    A federal judge has ruled that the US Environmental Protection Agency is under no obligation to force pesticide makers to disclose supposedly 'inert' ingredients in their products - even where those ingredients are seriously hazardous to health or environment.

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  • GMOs May Be Safe to Eat, But Some Are Still Bad for the Planet

    For years, one of the major arguments that has been made against genetically engineered crops is the fear that, by tampering with a plant’s DNA, it could potentially cause health issues for consumers. It’s an understandable worry, however, the scientific consensus now seems to be undeniable: Whatever faults GMO crops may have, they are safe for human consumption.

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  • The Great Green Wall of Africa

    Though a border wall with Mexico is currently a matter of serious discussion in the United States, the aim of which is to prevent the physical movement of people (with few other apparent “benefits”), some walls can actually bring together and preserve communities, rather than divide them.

    In only five years, the UN says, around 60 million Africans may be displaced as their land ceases to be arable, a potential humanitarian disaster the scale of which would be unprecedented. This would be devastating to a huge portion of the African continent not only ecologically and economically but socially as well.

    That’s where Africa’s ingenious Great Green Wall comes in.

    Experts at the United Nations say without action, desertification may claim two-thirds of Africa’s farmlands in under a decade. The Great Green Wall, however, was conceived as a wide-reaching strategy to halt Northern Africa’s rapidly advancing Sahara Desert.

    The Great Green Wall, once complete, will stretch an incredible 4,400 miles from Senegal in West Africa to the East African nation of Djibouti. Instead of bricks and mortar, the wall will be made of trees and other vegetation, including plants that can be eaten or used to create medicine.

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  • U of I study finds declining sulfur levels in soils and rivers in Midwest

     Air pollution legislation to control fossil fuel emissions and the associated acid rain has worked – perhaps leading to the need for sulfur fertilizers for crop production. A University of Illinois study drawing from over 20 years of data shows that sulfur levels in Midwest watersheds and rivers have steadily declined, so much so that farmers may need to consider applying sulfur in the not too distant future.

    “We don’t think there are actual sulfur deficiencies yet, but clearly more sulfur is coming out of the soil and water than what is going in,” says U of I biogeochemist Mark David. “As the Clean Air Act and amendments have taken effect there has been a reduction in sulfur emissions from coal combustion, so that the amount of atmospheric sulfur deposited each year is only 25 percent of what it used to be. At some point, farmers are going to have to fertilize with sulfur.”

     

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  • Middle East drought in historical perspective

    A recent study released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) concludes that the current drought that began in 1998 in the eastern Mediterranean Levant  – which includes Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey – is the region’s worst dry spell since 1100 C.E.

    NASA scientists reconstructed our regional drought history by studying records of tree rings, from dead and live specimens, across several Mediterranean countries to determine patterns of dry and wet years over a 900-year time span. Tree rings are good indicators of precipitation since dry years cause thin rings while thick rings show when water was plentiful. They concluded that the years between 1998 and 2012 were drier than any other period, and that the drought was likely caused by humans.

    Ben Cook, lead author and climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York City, said the range of regional weather events has varied widely over the last millennium, but the past twenty years stand out as extreme, falling outside the range of natural variability.

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