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Britain brings back the battery-powered train

January 13, 2015 - 8:14am
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.

Why is the water found on comet Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko so different from Earth water?

January 11, 2015 - 8:00am
ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft has found the water vapour from its target comet to be significantly different to that found on Earth. The discovery fuels the debate on the origin of our planet’s oceans.The measurements were made in the month following the spacecraft’s arrival at Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 6 August. It is one of the most anticipated early results of the mission, because the origin of Earth’s water is still an open question.One of the leading hypotheses on Earth’s formation is that it was so hot when it formed 4.6 billion years ago that any original water content should have boiled off. But, today, two thirds of the surface is covered in water, so where did it come from?

Seychelles fossils illuminate temperature/ocean level relationships

January 9, 2015 - 5:39pm
The balmy islands of Seychelles couldn't feel farther from Antarctica, but their fossil corals could reveal much about the fate of polar ice sheets.About 125,000 years ago, the average global temperature was only slightly warmer, but sea levels rose high enough to submerge the locations of many of today's coastal cities. Understanding what caused seas to rise then could shed light on how to protect those cities today.

Global Warming "hiatus" connected to volcanic eruptions

January 9, 2015 - 2:36pm
The “warming hiatus” that has occurred over the last 15 years has been caused in part by small volcanic eruptions. Scientists have long known that volcanoes cool the atmosphere because of the sulfur dioxide that is expelled during eruptions. Droplets of sulfuric acid that form when the gas combines with oxygen in the upper atmosphere can persist for many months, reflecting sunlight away from Earth and lowering temperatures at the surface and in the lower atmosphere. Previous research suggested that early 21st-century eruptions might explain up to a third of the recent warming hiatus.

Which fossil fuels must remain in the ground to limit global warming?

January 8, 2015 - 8:58am
A third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80% of current coal reserves globally should remain in the ground and not be used before 2050 if global warming is to stay below the 2°C target agreed by policy makers, according to new research by the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources. The study funded by the UK Energy Research Centre and published in Nature today, also identifies the geographic location of existing reserves that should remain unused and so sets out the regions that stand to lose most from achieving the 2°C goal.

Study reveals new method to estimate the global impacts of dams

January 7, 2015 - 4:08pm
When dams are built they have an impact not only on the flow of water in the river, but also on the people who live downstream and on the surrounding ecosystems. By placing data from close to 6,500 existing large dams on a highly precise map of the world’s rivers, an international team led by McGill University researchers has created a new method to estimate the global impacts of dams on river flow and fragmentation.

Most Earth-like Planet Revealed

January 7, 2015 - 2:17pm
Scientists analyzing data from NASA’s Kepler satellite have boosted the tally of known or suspected planets beyond our solar system to more than 4000, they reported here today at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Most are inhospitable—too big, too hot, or too cold for any conceivable life form. But another team seeking to verify Kepler candidates announced here today that they had identified eight new potentially habitable planets, including some close to Earth in size and situation. “We’ve significantly increased the list of verified small planets in the habitable zone,” says Douglas Caldwell of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California.

Global Warming History Repeats Itself

January 5, 2015 - 2:21pm
The Earth's current warming is looking similar to what took place 55 million years ago, writes David Bond. And if it works out that way, the news is good: we may avoid a mass extinction. On the other hand, the poles will melt away completely, and it will take hundreds of thousands of years for Earth to get back to 'normal'. It is often said that humans have caused the Earth to warm at an unprecedented rate. However researchers have discovered another period, some 55m years ago, when massive volcanic eruptions pumped so much carbon into the atmosphere that the planet warmed at what geologists would think of as breakneck speed. The good news is that most plants and animals survived the warm spell. The planet has experienced several mass extinctions - and this wasn't one of them. But there's a catch: even after carbon levels returned to their previous levels, the climate took 200,000 years to return to normal.

Could life thrive on an aquaplanet?

January 1, 2015 - 10:29am
Nearly 2,000 planets beyond our solar system have been identified to date. Whether any of these exoplanets are hospitable to life depends on a number of criteria. Among these, scientists have thought, is a planet’s obliquity — the angle of its axis relative to its orbit around a star.Earth, for instance, has a relatively low obliquity, rotating around an axis that is nearly perpendicular to the plane of its orbit around the sun. Scientists suspect, however, that exoplanets may exhibit a host of obliquities, resembling anything from a vertical spinning top to a horizontal rotisserie. The more extreme the tilt, the less habitable a planet may be — or so the thinking has gone.

Renewables Dominate New US Electrical Generating Capacity

December 24, 2014 - 10:01am
According to the latest “Energy Infrastructure Update” report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects, wind energy and solar power combined provided over 70 percent (71.82%) of the 873 megawatts (MW) of new U.S. electrical generating capacity placed into service in November 2014. Specifically, three wind farms came on line last month, accounting for 333-MW of new generation in service. These included Stella Wind Farm’s 182-MW Panhandle Wind Farm Phase II expansion in Texas and the 150-MW Origin Wind Energy project in Oklahoma. New wind generating capacity this year thus far has more than doubled that for the same period in 2013 (2,525-MW vs. 1,112-MW).

How the Credit Car Industry is Contributing to Pollution

December 23, 2014 - 9:47am
We all get far too much mail, especially from financial services companies.  Credit card companies alone send billions of pieces of paper mail each year, and most of that gets thrown right into the trash can.  Not only does this dynamic pose a threat from a fraud perspective – trash cans and mailboxes can be treasure troves for opportunistic fraudsters – but you have to figure the effect on the environment isn’t great either. Paper products aren’t as bad as most materials, according to North Carolina State University Professor Richard Venditti, because they’re renewable, recyclable and biodegradable and they motivate land owners to plant trees.  However, Venditti says, “inefficient use of paper does consume resources and have an impact on the environment.” While credit card direct mail is on the rise after hitting a two-year low in April 2012, long-term trends suggest a declining role for traditional paper mail in the years to come.  Not only are financial services companies increasingly offering paperless options to their account holders – even charging extra for paper statements, but they’re also learning how to better leverage digital means for marketing purposes.  These changes are largely based on the shifting preferences of the modern consumer as well as the overall technicalization of modern commerce – not some newfound corporate altruism – but does it really matter? 

New study analyzes sound sensitivity of marine invertebrates

December 22, 2014 - 2:57pm
Noise pollution in the ocean is increasingly recognized as harmful to marine mammals, affecting their ability to communicate, find mates, and hunt for food. But what impact does noise have on invertebrates -- a critical segment of the food web? Very few studies have attempted to answer that question. The harder question to answer might be 'How do you measure hearing in ocean invertebrates'? A new study by researchers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and their colleagues examined behavioral responses to sound by cuttlefish, a type of shell-less mollusk related to squid and octopi. The study is the first to identify the acoustic range and minimum sound sensitivity in these animals. Their findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, can help decision makers and environmental managers better understand the impacts of noise in the ocean.

Carnivorous Plants Follow the Vegetarian Trend

December 22, 2014 - 8:57am
Carnivorous plants catch and digest tiny animals in order and derive benefits for their nutrition. Interestingly the trend towards vegetarianism seems to overcome carnivorous plants as well. The aquatic carnivorous bladderwort, which can be found in many lakes and ponds worldwide, does not only gain profit from eating little animals but also by consuming algae and pollen grains. This results in survival in aquatic habitats where prey animals are rare, and in increased fitness if the animals and algae are caught in a well-balanced diet. An Austrian research group around Marianne Koller-Peroutka and Wolfram Adlassnig published these results in the respected journal Annals of Botany.

Organic Chemistry Found on Mars

December 19, 2014 - 8:53am
NASA's Mars Curiosity rover has measured a tenfold spike in methane, an organic chemical, in the atmosphere around it and detected other organic molecules in a rock-powder sample collected by the robotic laboratory's drill. "This temporary increase in methane -- sharply up and then back down -- tells us there must be some relatively localized source," said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a member of the Curiosity rover science team. "There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock."

Study finds reefs reduce wave energy by 97%

December 18, 2014 - 8:50am
We have a lot of stake in the coast. Coastal waters are where we host fisheries, build homes and turn to for tourism and recreation. So how should coastal communities, which comprise nearly 40 percent of the world's population, safeguard against flooding, erosion and violent weather? Marine scientist Michael Beck suggests the solution is growing right beneath some waves and, in many cases, it has been waiting there for thousands of years. 

New process turns biomass 'waste' into chemical products

December 17, 2014 - 3:13pm
A new catalytic process is able to convert what was once considered biomass waste into lucrative chemical products that can be used in fragrances, flavorings or to create high-octane fuel for racecars and jets. A team of researchers from Purdue University's Center for Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels, or C3Bio, has developed a process that uses a chemical catalyst and heat to spur reactions that convert lignin into valuable chemical commodities. Lignin is a tough and highly complex molecule that gives the plant cell wall its rigid structure.

Earth grows new layer under Icelandic Volcano

December 16, 2014 - 8:41am
New research into an Icelandic eruption has shed light on how the Earth’s crust forms, according to a paper published today in Nature. When the Bárðarbunga volcano, which is buried beneath Iceland’s Vatnajökull ice cap, reawakened in August 2014, scientists had a rare opportunity to monitor how the magma flowed through cracks in the rock away from the volcano.

An app to save 400 million animals

December 15, 2014 - 9:57am
Brazilian biologist Alex Bager has been leading a crusade to raise awareness of a major but neglected threat to biodiversity in his country.Every year over 475 million animals die in Brazil as victims of roadkill, according to an estimate by Centro Brasileiro de Ecologia de Estradas (the Brazilian Centre for the Study of Road Ecology) or CBEE, an initiative funded and coordinated by Bager. This means 15 animals are run down every second on Brazilian roads and highways."The numbers are really scary and we need people to know about them," Bager said.To register cases of roadkill throughout the country, Bager came up with the idea of an app, now used by thousands of citizen scientists. And a national day of action in November saw hundreds of volunteers participate in events to highlight the impact of roadkill on biodiversity. 

Do Wind Turbines Affect Property Values?

December 9, 2014 - 9:20am
Wind turbine developments have no effect on property values of nearby homes and farms, according to new research from the University of Guelph. Published in a recent issue of the Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics, the study is believed the first peer-reviewed study on this issue in Canada.

Sandia Labs study points to advantages of storing hydrogen in salt mines

December 9, 2014 - 7:59am
Large-scale storage of low-pressure, gaseous hydrogen in salt caverns and other underground sites for transportation fuel and grid-scale energy applications offers several advantages over above-ground storage, says a recent Sandia National Laboratories study sponsored by the Department of Energy’s Fuel Cell Technologies Office.Geologic storage of hydrogen gas could make it possible to produce and distribute large quantities of hydrogen fuel for the growing fuel cell electric vehicle market, the researchers concluded.Geologic storage solutions can service a number of key hydrogen markets since “costs are more influenced by the geology available rather than the size of the hydrogen market demand,” said Sandia’s Anna Snider Lord, the study’s principal investigator.

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