A new online resource, developed by researchers at the Univ. of Cambridge in collaboration with other organizations based in Cambridge, helps those in both the public and private sector see how changes to an ecosystem can affect its value, in order to make more informed decisions about how the natural environment should be developed.
The Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment (TESSA) was launched online this week to coincide with the 7th Annual Ecosystem Services Partnership Conference in Costa Rica, and allows users to make a direct comparison of the value that an ecosystem can provide to a community in different states, by providing access to state of the art information about their financial value.
Earth’s protective ozone layer is beginning to recover, largely because of the phase-out since the 1980s of certain chemicals used in refrigerants and aerosol cans, a U.N. scientific panel reported in a rare piece of good news about the health of the planet.
Scientists said the development demonstrates that when the world comes together, it can counteract a brewing ecological crisis. For the first time in 35 years, scientists were able to confirm a statistically significant and sustained increase in stratospheric ozone, which shields the planet from solar radiation that causes skin cancer, crop damage and other problems.
Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached a record high in 2013 as increasing levels of man-made pollution transform the planet, the UN weather agency said today.
In an annual report, the World Meteorological Organization said that carbon dioxide, the heat-trapping gas blamed for the largest share of global warming, rose to global concentrations of 396 parts per million last year, the biggest year-to-year change in three decades.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $328 million in funding to protect and restore farmlands, grasslands and wetlands across the country.
The initiative, using money provided in the new five-year farm bill, will buy conservation easements from farmers to protect the environment, help wildlife populations and promote outdoor recreation, the USDA said in its announcement. The agency selected 380 projects nationwide covering 32,000 acres of prime farmland, 45,000 acres of grasslands and 52,000 acres of wetlands.
If Americans altered their menus to conform to federal dietary recommendations, emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases tied to agricultural production could increase significantly, according to a new study by Univ. of Michigan researchers.
Martin Heller and Gregory Keoleian of U-M’s Center for Sustainable Systems looked at the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of about 100 foods, as well as the potential effects of shifting Americans to a diet recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They found that if Americans adopted the recommendations in USDA’s “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010,” while keeping caloric intake constant, diet-related greenhouse gas emissions would increase 12 percent.
One of the most visible signs of climate change in recent years was not even visible at all until a few decades ago. The sea ice cap that covers the Arctic Ocean has been changing dramatically, especially in the last 15 years. Its ice is thinner and more vulnerable – and at its summer minimum now covers more than 1 million fewer square miles than in the late 1970s. That’s enough missing ice to cover Alaska, California and Texas.
A key part of the story of how the world was able to witness and document this change centers on meticulous work over decades by a small group of scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Late nights in mainframe rooms, double- and triple-checking computer printouts, processing and re-processing data – until the first-ever accurate atlases of the world’s sea ice were published.
Flying high above the California desert, NASA researchers recently took to the skies for the second year in a row with a DC-8 and other aircraft to study the effects on emissions and contrail formation of burning alternative fuels in jet engines.
This follow-up set of Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions flight tests, known as ACCESS II, repeated a similar series of tests flown during 2013, while also adding a few new wrinkles to the investigations to capture more and better data.
Genetic Signatures May Help Predictive Climate Models
One aspect of the climate change models researchers have been developing looks at how plant ranges might shift, and how factors such as temperature, water availability and light levels might come into play. Forests creeping steadily north and becoming established in the thawing Arctic is just one of the predicted effects of rising global temperatures.
A recent study published in Nature Genetics offers a more in-depth, population-based approach to identifying such mechanisms for adaptation, and describes a method that could be harnessed for developing more accurate predictive climate change models. For the U.S. Department of Energy, which is developing biomass crops for biofuels production, this knowledge could determine which genotypes – genetic makeup of an organism – of biomass crop may thrive better than others in certain environments.
WikimediaUsing a new modeling approach, the researchers at the Univ. of York estimated the levels of 12 pharmaceutical compounds in rivers across the UK. They found that while most of the compounds were likely to cause only a low risk to aquatic life, ibuprofen might be having an adverse effect in nearly 50 percent of the stretches of river studied.
In what is believed to be the first study to establish the level of risk posed by ibuprofen at the country scale, the researchers examined 3,112 stretches of river that together receive inputs from 21 million people.
About 63 trillion gallons of water have been lost to drought in the western U.S., enough to blanket the region with four inches of water, according to a study.
Researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD, arrived at the conclusion by measuring the level of the earth’s crust with a network of GPS stations that is normally used to predict earthquakes.
Deep in the hilly grasslands of remote Inner Mongolia, twin smoke stacks rise more than 200 feet into the sky, their steam and sulfur billowing over herds of sheep and cattle. Both day and night, the rumble of this power plant echoes across the ancient steppe, and its acrid stench travels dozens of miles away.
This is the first of more than 60 coal-to-gas plants China wants to build, mostly in remote parts of the country where ethnic minorities have farmed and herded for centuries. Fired up in December, the multibillion-dollar plant bombards millions of tons of coal with water and heat to produce methane, which is piped to Beijing to generate electricity.
It’s part of a controversial energy revolution China hopes will help it churn out desperately needed natural gas and electricity while cleaning up the toxic skies above the country’s eastern cities. However, the plants will also release vast amounts of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, even as the world struggles to curb greenhouse gas emissions and stave off global warming.
Sunlight Controls Fate of Permafrost’s Released Carbon
Just how much Arctic permafrost will thaw in the future and how fast heat-trapping carbon dioxide will be released from those warming soils is a topic of lively debate among climate scientists.
To answer those questions, scientists need to understand the mechanisms that control the conversion of organic soil carbon into carbon dioxide gas. Until now, researchers believed that bacteria were largely responsible.
Algae might seem easy to ignore, but they are the ultimate source of all organic matter that marine animals depend upon. Humans are increasingly dependent on algae, too, to suck up climate-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sink it to the bottom of the ocean. Now, by using a combination of satellite imagery and laboratory experiments, researchers have evidence showing that viruses infecting those algae are driving the life-and-death dynamics of the algae’s blooms, even when all else stays essentially the same, and this has important implications for our climate.
According to results, reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology today, a single North Atlantic algal bloom, about 30 kilometers in radius, converted 24,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into organic carbon via a process known as carbon fixation. Two-thirds of that carbon turned over within a week as that bloom grew at a very rapid rate and then quickly met its demise. A closer look at those algae revealed high levels of specific viruses infecting their cells.
The sweet and salty aroma of sunscreen and seawater signals a relaxing trip to the shore. But, scientists are now reporting that the idyllic beach vacation comes with an environmental hitch. When certain sunblock ingredients wash off skin and into the sea, they can become toxic to some of the ocean’s tiniest inhabitants, which are the main course for many other marine animals. Their study appears in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Unanticipated economic benefits from the shale oil and gas boom could help offset the costs of substantially reducing the U.S.’s carbon footprint, Purdue agricultural economists say. Wally Tyner and Farzad Taheripour estimate that shale technologies annually provide an extra $302 billion to the U.S. economy relative to 2007, a yearly “dividend” that could continue for at least the next two decades, Tyner said.
Using an economic model, they found that “spending” part of this dividend on slashing the nation’s carbon emissions by about 27 percent — about the same amount set forth in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recently proposed Clean Power Plan — would reduce the shale dividend by about half.