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The ohia tree is in trouble

April 25, 2016 - 2:08pm
The ʻohiʻa is Hawaii’s iconic tree, a keystone species that maintains healthy watersheds and provides habitat for numerous endangered birds. But a virulent fungal disease, possibly related to a warmer, drier climate, is now felling the island’s cherished `ohi`a forests.Hawaii’s isolation, 2,390 miles from the North American mainland, has given the island chain a unique array of species found nowhere else, including the ʻohiʻa lehua, an evergreen in the myrtle family with delicate pom-pom-shaped flowers composed of clusters of showy stamens in a range of hues from red and orange to pale yellow. In 2010, homeowners on the Big Island of Hawaii began reporting that ʻohiʻa in their upland rainforest were dying without apparent cause. Researchers named the mysterious condition “Rapid ʻOhiʻa Death” (ROD). On Google Earth, you can see the telltale brown streaks in the Puna forest reserve, Hawaii's largest remaining upland rainforest located on the slope of Kilauea volcano, where many ʻohiʻa lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) trees have already succumbed. If you scroll over 60 miles to the west to the other side of the island, the green canopy behind Kealakekua Bay on the Kona coast — where Captain James Cook first set foot on Hawaii and was later killed — is pocked with the bleached skeletons of dead and dying trees. Scenes like these have become commonplace in the American West, where several conifer species, weakened by long-term drought and warmer temperatures, have been decimated by bark beetles. Researchers are wondering if climate change may also have stressed ʻohiʻa trees, perhaps helping to trigger the current outbreak on Hawaii. The fungus clogs the vascular system of the trees, making them wilt and die as if from a drought.An overall decrease in trade winds has created drier conditions in recent years in parts of the islands, at the same time that rising temperatures have warmed things up in the cool upland forests where ʻohiʻa thrive. 

Do you live in one of America's worst cities for air pollution?

April 25, 2016 - 8:16am
The American Lung Association has released its annual “State of the Air” report and its findings are troubling. Most Americans live in counties with air pollution so bad that it is a severe risk to their health. According to the report, that means 166 million people are at risk of an early death and significant health problems including asthma, developmental damage and cancer.Without a doubt the most concerning discovery made by the American Lung Association was that short-term particle pollution had increased sharply since last year’s report: “Short-term spikes” of particle pollution hit record levels in seven of the 25 most polluted U.S. cities in this period.

Australian river on fire with fracked coal seam gas

April 23, 2016 - 4:13pm
So much methane is bubbling into a river surrounded by hundreds of fracking wells that it's a fire hazard! Local campaigners blame the coal seam gas industry for the gas releases which are spreading along Queensland's river Condamine and gaining in intensity.So much methane gas is now bubbling up through the Condamine River in Queensland, Australia that it exploded with fire and held a large flame.Gas seeping into the river began shortly after coal seam gas operations started nearby and is growing in volume and the stretch of river affected is expanding in length. 

VW agrees to buy back or "fix" 500,000 cars in North America

April 22, 2016 - 1:23pm
With only days to go before the deadline, Volkswagen AG (VW) and the U.S. government reached a partial settlement over how to deal with the automaker’s “dieselgate” emissions scandal.Volkswagen agreed to fix or buy back some 500,000 vehicles caught up in the crisis. What wasn’t agreed upon is how much the company should pay in fines and compensation to consumers affected by the crisis. 

USGS study shows why some chemicals bio-accumulate and others don't

April 20, 2016 - 12:19pm
Researchers have figured out what makes certain chemicals accumulate to toxic levels in aquatic food webs. And, scientists have developed a screening technique to determine which chemicals pose the greatest risk to the environment.According to the study led by the U.S. Geological Survey, two traits were identified that indicate how chemicals can build up and reach toxic levels:  how easily a chemical is broken down or metabolized by an organism and the chemical’s ability to dissolve in water.These traits account for how most chemicals concentrate, or biomagnify, in ever-higher levels as one goes up the food chain from its base to its top predators, such as fish, people, or polar bears. Chemicals that have the ability to biomagnify, such as DDT, can have adverse effects on human and wildlife health and the environment.  

Ocean currents push phytoplankton and pollution faster than thought

April 20, 2016 - 7:50am
The billions of single-celled marine organisms known as phytoplankton can drift from one region of the world's oceans to almost any other place on the globe in less than a decade, Princeton University researchers have found.Unfortunately, the same principle can apply to plastic debris, radioactive particles and virtually any other man-made flotsam and jetsam that litter our seas, the researchers found. Pollution can thus become a problem far from where it originated within just a few years.

MIT finds tectonic collisions had major impact on climatic shifts

April 19, 2016 - 11:44am
For hundreds of millions of years, Earth's climate has remained on a fairly even keel, with some dramatic exceptions: Around 80 million years ago, the planet's temperature plummeted, along with carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. The Earth eventually recovered, only to swing back into the present-day ice age 50 million years ago. Now geologists at MIT have identified the likely cause of both ice ages, as well as a natural mechanism for carbon sequestration. Just prior to both periods, massive tectonic collisions took place near the Earth's equator -- a tropical zone where rocks undergo heavy weathering due to frequent rain and other environmental conditions. This weathering involves chemical reactions that absorb a large amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The dramatic drawdown of carbon dioxide cooled the atmosphere, the new study suggests, and set the planet up for two ice ages, 80 million and 50 million years ago.  

Which trees face death in drought?

April 19, 2016 - 8:19am
Two hundred-twenty-five million trees dead in the southwest in a 2002 drought. Three hundred million trees in Texas in 2011. Twelve million this past year in California.  Throughout the world, large numbers of trees are dying in extreme heat and drought events. Because mass die-offs can have critical consequences for the future of forests and the future of Earth’s climate, scientists are trying to understand how a warming climate could affect how often tree mortality events occur – and how severe they could become.

Shift in global winds caused record flooding in the Balkans

April 17, 2016 - 8:40am
Disastrous floods in the Balkans two years ago are likely linked to the temporary slowdown of giant airstreams, scientists found. These wind patterns, circling the globe in the form of huge waves between the Equator and the North Pole, normally move eastwards, but practically stopped for several days then -- at the same time, a weather system got stuck over Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia that poured out record amounts of rain. The study adds evidence that so-called planetary wave resonance is a key mechanism for causing extreme weather events in summer. Further, the scientists showed that extreme rainfall events are strongly increasing in the Balkans, even more than the globally observed rise."We were surprised to see how long the weather system that led to the flooding stayed over the region -- it's like the Vb cyclone 'Yvette' was trapped there," says Lisa Stadtherr from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), lead-author of the study to be published in Science Advances. "Day after day the rain was soaking the soil until it was saturated, which lead to the flooding that reportedly caused several dozen casualties and 3.5 billion Euro of damages." 

Clear cutting and its influence on carbon storage

April 15, 2016 - 8:28pm
lear-cutting loosens up carbon stored in forest soils, increasing the chances it will return to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and contribute to climate change, a Dartmouth College study shows.The findings appear in the journal Soil Science.Soil is the world's largest terrestrial carbon pool. In northern hardwood forests in the United States, mineral soil pools store up to 50 percent of total ecosystem carbon. Logging and other land-use changes are a major cause of soil carbon release, but there has been recent interest to further understand soil carbon dynamics in forested ecosystems after logging. This is of particular importance in the northeastern U.S. because of the great potential for the use of biomass as part of a diversified renewable energy portfolio.The Dartmouth researchers explored whether clear-cutting changes the strength of the chemical bonds of carbon stored in mineral soils in hardwood forests in the northeastern United States. Clear-cutting involves harvesting all timber from a site at once rather than selectively culling mature trees. Carbon is stored in soil by binding only to certain soil structures.The researchers collected soils from recently clear-cut forests and from older forests, and pulled carbon from the soil in a sequence of gentle to stronger extractions. The results showed that mature forest stands stored significantly more soil organic carbon in strongly mineral-bound and stable carbon pools than did soils from cut stands.

Study shows most US roofs can support a solar system

April 14, 2016 - 8:40am
Most U.S. rooftops in good repair can take the weight of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. That’s the conclusion of a three-year study by a research team led by Sandia National Laboratories.“There is a misperception in the building industry that existing residential rooftops lack the strength to carry the weight load of rooftop solar photovoltaic installations,” said Sandia structural engineer Steve Dwyer. “Most existing well-built wooden rooftops can support PV system loads.”Sandia took on the job of analyzing rooftop structural strength to address concerns raised in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Solar America Cities program. The agency named 25 cities to promote adoption of solar technology at a comprehensive, local level through photovoltaics. 

The Paris climate accord looks promising

April 12, 2016 - 9:04pm
The climate talks that concluded last December were a great success, but it will be decades before we can judge whether the Paris Agreement itself is ultimately successful. What can be said is that the accord provides a good foundation for meaningful progress on climate change, and represents a dramatic departure from the past 20 years of climate negotiations.I have long viewed the dichotomous distinction between Annex I and non–Annex I countries in the Kyoto Protocol as the major stumbling block to progress. The protocol included mandatory emissions-reduction obligations for developed countries, but none for developing countries. That made progress impossible, because significant growth in emissions since the protocol came into force in 2005 has been entirely in the large developing countries — China, India, Brazil, South Korea, South Africa, Mexico, and Indonesia. 

Reducing food waste could help mitigate climate change

April 11, 2016 - 8:33am
About a tenth of overall global greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture could be traced back to food waste by mid-century, a new study shows. A team from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research for the first time provides comprehensive food loss projections for countries around the world while also calculating the associated emissions. Currently, one third of global food production never finds its way onto our plates. This share will increase drastically, if emerging countries like China and India adopt Western nutrition lifestyles, the analyses shows. Reducing food waste would offer the chance to ensure food security, which is well known. Yet at the same time it could help mitigate dangerous climate change.

Rising oceans may pose a bigger threat than previously assumed

April 9, 2016 - 10:34am
Of all the impacts of climate change, one stands out for its inexorable menace, writes Pete Dolack: rising oceans. And it's not just for distant future generations to deal with: new scientific studies show that people alive today may face 6-9 metres of sea level rise flooding well over a million sq.km including many of the world's biggest cities. So where's the emergency response?There is a possibility, a real danger, that we will hand young people and future generations a climate system that is practically out of their control. We have a global emergency.When it comes to global warming, what else don't we know? 

The North Pole had ice-free summers millions of years ago

April 8, 2016 - 8:22am
An international team of scientists led by the Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) have managed to open a new window into the climate history of the Arctic Ocean. Using unique sediment samples from the Lomonosov Ridge, the researchers found that six to ten million years ago the central Arctic was completely ice-free during summer and sea-surface temperature reached values of 4 to 9 degrees Celsius. In spring, autumn and winter, however, the ocean was covered by sea ice of variable extent, the scientists explain in the current issue of the journal Nature Communications. These new findings from the Arctic region provide new benchmarks for groundtruthing global climate reconstructions and modelling.The researchers had recovered these unique sediment samples during an expedition with Germany's research icebreaker RV Polarstern in summer of 2014. "The Arctic sea ice is a very critical and sensitive component in the global climate system. It is therefore important to better understand the processes controlling present and past changes in sea ice. In this context, one of our expedition's aims was to recover long sediment cores from the central Arctic, that can be used to reconstruct the history of the ocean's sea ice cover throughout the past 50 million years. Until recently, only a very few cores representing such old sediments were available, and, thus, our knowledge of the Arctic climate and sea ice cover several millions of year ago is still very limited," Prof. Dr. Ruediger Stein, AWI geologist, expedition leader and lead author of the study, explains. 

Earth's soils could play key role in locking away greenhouse gases

April 7, 2016 - 7:51am
The world's soils could store an extra 8 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, helping to limit the impacts of climate change, research suggests.Adopting the latest technologies and sustainable land use practices on a global scale could allow more emissions to be stored in farmland and natural wild spaces, the study shows. 

NASA examines El Nino's impact on ocean's food source

April 4, 2016 - 8:46pm
El Niño years can have a big impact on the littlest plants in the ocean, and NASA scientists are studying the relationship between the two. In El Niño years, huge masses of warm water – equivalent to about half of the volume of the Mediterranean Sea – slosh east across the Pacific Ocean towards South America. While this warm water changes storm systems in the atmosphere, it also has an impact below the ocean’s surface. These impacts, which researchers can visualize with satellite data, can ripple up the food chain to fisheries and the livelihoods of fishermen.

Lower indoor temperatures in winter correlate with thinner waistlines

April 1, 2016 - 6:16pm
Elderly adults are bigger around the middle when they turn up the heat inside their homes during the cold season and have smaller waistlines when their homes stay cool, new research finds. Investigators from Japan will present their study results Friday at the Endocrine Society's 98th annual meeting in Boston."Although cold exposure may be a trigger of cardiovascular disease, our data suggest that safe and appropriate cold exposure may be an effective preventive measure against obesity," said the study's lead investigator, Keigo Saeki, MD, PhD, of Nara Medical University School of Medicine Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Nara, Japan.Cold exposure activates thermogenesis, to generate body heat, in brown fat. This type of fat is the good calorie-burning fat that prior research found most humans have. However, Saeki said the association between the amount of cold exposure and obesity in real life remains unclear. 

Snowshoe hare range moving northward following retreating snow cover

March 31, 2016 - 8:52am
If there is an animal emblematic of the northern winter, it is the snowshoe hare.A forest dweller, the snowshoe hare is named for its big feet, which allow it to skitter over deep snow to escape lynx, coyotes and other predators. It changes color with the seasons, assuming a snow-white fur coat for winter camouflage.But a changing climate and reduced snow cover across the north is squeezing the animal out of its historic range, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Writing in the current (March 30, 2016) Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the Wisconsin researchers report that the range of the hare in Wisconsin is creeping north by about five and a half miles per decade, closely tracking the diminishing snow cover the animal requires to be successful. 

Severe water stress likely in Asia by 2050

March 30, 2016 - 6:51pm
Economic and population growth on top of climate change could lead to serious water shortages across a broad swath of Asia by the year 2050, a newly published study by MIT scientists has found.The study deploys detailed modeling to produce what the researchers believe is a full range of scenarios involving water availability and use in the future. In the paper, the scientists conclude there is a “high risk of severe water stress” in much of an area that is home to roughly half the world’s population.

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