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Sequestration on shaky ground

January 21, 2015 7:46 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Carbon sequestration promises to address greenhouse gas emissions by capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and injecting it deep below the Earth’s surface, where it would permanently solidify into rock. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that current carbon sequestration technologies may eliminate up to 90% of carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Melting glaciers have big carbon impact

January 20, 2015 11:21 am | by Kathleen Haughney, Florida State Univ. | News | Comments

As the Earth warms and glaciers all over the world begin to melt, researchers and public policy experts have focused largely on how all of that extra water will contribute to sea level rise. But another impact lurking in that inevitable scenario is carbon. More specifically, what happens to all of the organic carbon found in those glaciers when they melt?

Ocean floor dust gives new insight into supernovae

January 20, 2015 10:32 am | by Phil Dooley, The Australian National Univ. | News | Comments

Scientists plumbing the depths of the ocean have made a surprise finding that could change the way we understand supernovae, exploding stars way beyond our solar system. They have analyzed extraterrestrial dust thought to be from supernovae that has settled on ocean floors to determine the amount of heavy elements created by the massive explosions.

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2014 warmest year on record

January 20, 2015 8:37 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer, Associated Press | News | Comments

For the third time in a decade, the globe sizzled to the hottest year on record, federal scientists announced. Both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA calculated that in 2014 the world had its hottest year in 135 years of record-keeping. Earlier, the Japanese weather agency and an independent group out of UC Berkeley also measured 2014 as the hottest on record.

Wrangling over pesticide ingredients comes to a head in 2015

January 16, 2015 1:06 pm | by American Chemical Society | News | Comments

Consumer advocates are fighting a new rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency that aims to address concerns over “inert” ingredients, including fragrances and dyes, in pesticides for non-food use. They say the proposal, which could become final this year, doesn’t go far enough to protect human health and the environment from the ingredients’ potential impacts.

Perovskites provide big boost to silicon solar cells

January 16, 2015 8:05 am | by Mark Shwartz, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

Stacking perovskites onto a conventional silicon solar cell dramatically improves the overall efficiency of the cell, according to a new study led by Stanford Univ. scientists. The researchers describe their novel perovskite-silicon solar cell in Energy & Environmental Science.

Humanity has exceeded four of nine “planetary boundaries”

January 16, 2015 7:53 am | by Adam Hinterthuer, Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison | Videos | Comments

An international team of researchers says climate change, the loss of biosphere integrity, land-system change and altered biogeochemical cycles like phosphorus and nitrogen runoff have all passed beyond levels that put humanity in a “safe operating space.” Civilization has crossed four of nine so-called planetary boundaries as the result of human activity, according to a report published in Science by the 18-member research team.

Systems crucial to stability of planet compromised

January 15, 2015 3:47 pm | by Raphael Larocque-Cyr, Media Relations Office, McGill Univ. | News | Comments

Almost half of the processes that are crucial to maintaining the stability of the planet have become dangerously compromised by human activity. That is the view of an international team of 18 researchers who provide new evidence of significant changes in four of the nine systems which regulate the resilience of the Earth.

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Tiny plant fossils a window into Earth’s landscape millions of years ago

January 15, 2015 3:30 pm | by Michelle Ma, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

Minuscule, fossilized pieces of plants could tell a detailed story of what the Earth looked like 50 million years ago. An international team led by the Univ. of Washington has discovered a way to determine the tree cover and density of trees, shrubs and bushes in locations over time based on clues in the cells of plant fossils preserved in rocks and soil.

Mass animal die-offs may be increasing

January 15, 2015 8:08 am | by Bill Hathaway, Yale Univ. | News | Comments

Mass die-offs of animals may be increasing in frequency and in severity as well, according to a study of 727 mass mortality events since 1940. Despite the ecological importance of individual mass mortality events, in which a larger than normal number of individuals die within a population, little research has been conducted on patterns across mass mortality events.

Study: Sea level rise accelerating more than once thought

January 14, 2015 1:38 pm | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer, Associated Press | News | Comments

  The world's oceans are now rising far faster than they did in the past, a new study says. The study found that for much of the 20th century the sea level was about 30% less than earlier research had figured. But that's not good news, scientists say, because about 25 years ago the seas started rising faster and the acceleration in 1990 turns out to be more dramatic than previously calculated.

How to predict responses to disease

January 14, 2015 10:18 am | by Larry Hardesty, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Sometimes the response to the outbreak of a disease can make things worse. The ability to anticipate when such overreactions might occur could help public health officials take steps to limit the dangers. Now a new computer model could provide a way of making such forecasts, based on a combination of data collected from hospitals, social media and other sources.

Obama moves to create first methane limits for gas drilling

January 14, 2015 8:37 am | by Josh Lederman, Associated Press, Associated Press | News | Comments

The Obama administration said Wednesday it will issue the first regulations to cut down on methane emissions from new natural gas wells, aiming to curb the discharge of a potent greenhouse gas by roughly half. Relying once again on the Clean Air Act, the rules join a host of others that Obama has ordered in an effort to slow global warming despite opposition to new laws in Congress that has only hardened since the midterm elections.

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Rainfall can release aerosols

January 14, 2015 7:38 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Ever notice an earthy smell in the air after a light rain? Now scientists believe they may have identified the mechanism that releases this aroma, as well as other aerosols, into the environment. Using high-speed cameras, the researchers observed that when a raindrop hits a porous surface, it traps tiny air bubbles at the point of contact.

NASA awards $30M grant to Penn State

January 13, 2015 1:17 pm | by Patricia Craig, Penn State Univ. | News | Comments

Penn State Univ. will lead a five-year, $30 million mission to improve quantification of present-day carbon-related greenhouse gas sources and sinks. An improved understanding of these gases will advance our ability to predict and manage future climate change.

Estimated social cost of climate change not accurate

January 13, 2015 11:41 am | by Ker Than, Stanford Univ. | News | Comments

The economic damage caused by a ton of carbon dioxide emissions could be six times higher than the value that the U.S. now uses to guide current energy regulations, and possibly future mitigation policies, Stanford Univ. scientists say. A recent U.S. government study concluded, based on the results of three widely used economic impact models, an additional ton of carbon dioxide emitted in 2015 would cause $37 worth of economic damages.

Poll: Americans support labeling genetically modified foods

January 13, 2015 9:36 am | by By Mary Clare Jalonick - Associated Press - Associated Press | News | Comments

A large majority of Americans support labeling of genetically modified foods, whether they care about eating them or not. According to a December Associated Press-GfK poll, 66% of Americans favor requiring food manufacturers to put labels on products that contain genetically modified organisms, or foods grown from seeds engineered in labs. Only 7% are opposed to the idea, and 24% are neutral.

How rivers of meltwater on Greenland’s ice sheet contribute to rising sea levels

January 13, 2015 8:31 am | by Meg Sullivan, Univ. of California, Los Angeles | Videos | Comments

As the largest single chunk of melting snow and ice in the world, the massive ice sheet that covers about 80% of Greenland is recognized as the biggest potential contributor to rising sea levels due to glacial meltwater. Until now, however, scientists’ attention has mostly focused on the ice sheet’s aquamarine lakes and on monster chunks of ice that slide into the ocean to become icebergs.

Small volcanic eruptions explain warming hiatus

January 12, 2015 8:13 am | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboraotry | News | Comments

The “warming hiatus” over the past 15 years has been caused in part by small volcanic eruptions. Scientists have known 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.

Scientists: Great Lakes teeming with tiny plastic fibers

January 9, 2015 3:36 pm | by John Flesher, AP Environmental Writer, Associated Press | News | Comments

Scientists who have reported that the Great Lakes are awash in tiny bits of plastic are raising new alarms about a little-noticed form of the debris turning up in sampling nets: synthetic fibers from garments, cleaning cloths and other consumer products. They are known as "microfibers", exceedingly fine filaments made of petroleum-based materials such as polyester and nylon that are woven together into fabrics.

How the “Beast Quake” is helping scientists track real earthquakes

January 9, 2015 10:31 am | by Hannah Hickey, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

It’s not just the football players who have spent a year training. Univ. of Washington seismologists will again be monitoring the ground-shaking cheers of Seahawks fans, this year with a bigger team, better technology and faster response times. Scientists with the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network will install instruments this Thursday to provide real-time monitoring of the stadium’s movement during the 2015 NFL playoffs.

Mercury from gold mines accumulates far downstream

January 9, 2015 8:00 am | by Ken Kingery, Duke Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers have determined that the health risks taken on by artisanal, small-scale gold miners extend far beyond the miners themselves. Based on a study of gold-mining operations in Peru, the miners' practices not only contaminate local soil, sediment and water resources with mercury, they create hazardous levels of the neurotoxin in the food chain at least 350 miles downstream.

Cold comfort: U.S. weather in 2014 not too hot, disastrous

January 8, 2015 11:39 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer, Associated Press | News | Comments

On a day when much of the U.S. struggled with bone-chilling cold, federal meteorologists said America's weather in 2014 wasn't really that bad. They announced Thursday that the U.S. average temperature in 2014 was half a degree warmer than normal and weather was less disastrous and drought-struck than previous years.

Algae blooms create their own favorable conditions

January 8, 2015 8:22 am | by John Cramer, Dartmouth College | News | Comments

Fertilizers are known to promote the growth of toxic cyanobacterial blooms in freshwater and oceans worldwide, but a new multi-institution study shows the aquatic microbes themselves can drive nitrogen and phosphorus cycling in a combined one-two punch in lakes.

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

January 7, 2015 2:39 pm | by Bex Caygill, Univ. College London | News | Comments

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.

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