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Burning biomass pellets in China could lower mercury emissions

December 19, 2013 7:32 pm | News | Comments

For millions of homes, plants, wood and other types of “biomass” serve as an essential source of fuel, especially in developing countries, but their mercury content has raised flags among environmentalists and researchers. Scientists are now reporting that among dozens of sources of biomass, processed pellets burned under realistic conditions in China emit relatively low levels of the potentially harmful substance.

Team developing new monitoring tools for hydropower generation

December 19, 2013 8:52 am | News | Comments

A group of researchers at Carnegie Mellon Univ. is banking on the efficiency of an environmentally friendly alternative to large hydroelectric operations. Known as hydrokinetic or run-of-the-river power extraction, the new method harvests a small portion of kinetic energy in the river at multiple locations. They are building multi-scale hierarchical models for analyzing large-scale river networks, hydropower project placement, and control.

Oil- and metal-munching microbes dominate deep sandstone formations

December 18, 2013 11:19 am | News | Comments

Halomonas are a hardy breed of bacteria. They can withstand heat, high salinity, low oxygen, utter darkness and pressures that would kill most other organisms. These traits enable these microbes to eke out a living in deep sandstone formations that also happen to be useful for hydrocarbon extraction and carbon sequestration, researchers report in a new study.

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New tests explore safety of nanotubes in plastics over time

December 18, 2013 9:03 am | News | Comments

Modern epoxies are frequently made stronger, lighter and more resilient with the addition of multiwalled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs), a special form of carbon that under a microscope looks like rolls of chicken wire. Few analytical methods have been employed, however, to determine the effect this material has on environmental or health safety. NIST has developed a suite of tests for evaluating the performance of these nanocomposite materials.

Superbugs found breeding in sewage plants

December 18, 2013 8:37 am | News | Comments

Tests at two wastewater treatment plants in northern China revealed antibiotic-resistant bacteria were not only escaping purification but also breeding and spreading their dangerous cargo. Scientists found “superbugs” carrying New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase (NDM-1), a multidrug-resistant gene first identified in India in 2010, in wastewater disinfected by chlorination.

Hack the planet? Geoengineering research, ethics, governance explored

December 18, 2013 7:54 am | by Hannah Hickey, Univ. of Washington | News | Comments

A dozen research papers in a recent special issue of the journal Climate Change are devoted to the topic of geoengineering. They include the most detailed description yet of the proposed Oxford Principles to govern geoengineering research, as well as surveys on the technical hurdles, ethics and regulatory issues related to deliberately manipulating the planet’s climate.

Change in Pacific nitrogen content tied to climate change

December 17, 2013 2:40 pm | by Anne M. Stark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | News | Comments

Using a new isotope technique and deep sea corals gathered near the Hawaiian Islands, a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientist, in collaboration with Univ. of California Santa Cruz colleagues, has determined that a long-term shift in nitrogen content in the Pacific Ocean has occurred as a result of climate change. This shift is similar to major paleoceanographic transitions in the sedimentary record.

FDA: Anti-bacterial soaps may not curb bacteria

December 17, 2013 8:13 am | by Matthew Perrone, AP Health Writer | News | Comments

After more than 40 years of study, the U.S. government says it has found no evidence that common anti-bacterial soaps, which contain triclosan and other sanitizing agents, prevent the spread of germs. Regulators want the makers of Dawn, Dial, and other household staples to prove that their products do not pose health risks to consumers.

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Researcher develops new seismometer for studying ice sheets

December 16, 2013 9:34 am | by Katie Jacobs, Penn State Univ. | News | Comments

To support research efforts in Antarctica, a Penn State Univ. geoscience professor has developed a new type of seismometer, which measures the way seismic waves move through the ice. The “geoPebbles” act as laptops without screens. Equipped with WiFi, they don’t have to be plugged in and charge wirelessly, letting scientists collect data without exposure to the cold.

Navy expands sonar testing despite troubling signs

December 16, 2013 9:28 am | by Alicia Chang and Julie Watson, Associated Press Writers | News | Comments

The U.S. Navy plans to increase sonar testing over the next five years, even as research it funded reveals worrying signs that the loud underwater noise could disturb whales and dolphins. Two recent studies off the Southern California coast found certain endangered whales stopped feeding and fled from recordings of sounds similar to military sonar. This was surprising because scientists thought they were immune to the high-pitched sounds.

Homing in on stressed coral

December 13, 2013 2:14 pm | by Denise Brehm, Civil and Environmental Engineering MIT | News | Comments

Coral reefs, the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world’s oceans, provide safe harbor for fish and organisms of many sizes that make homes among the branches, nooks and crannies of the tree-like coral. But reefs are declining because of disease and bleaching, conditions exacerbated by rising ocean temperatures.

Ethanol blends carry hidden risk

December 13, 2013 7:57 am | News | Comments

Blending ethanol into fuel to cut air pollution from vehicles carries a hidden risk that toxic or even explosive gases may find their way into buildings. The problems would likely occur in buildings with cracked foundations that happen to be in the vicinity of fuel spills. Vapors that rise from contaminated groundwater can be sucked inside; and, once there, trapped pools of methane could ignite and toxic hydrocarbons causing health issues.

Can we turn unwanted carbon dioxide into electricity?

December 12, 2013 5:54 pm | by Pam Frost Gorder, Ohio State Univ. | News | Comments

Researchers are developing a new kind of geothermal power plant that will lock away unwanted carbon dioxide underground and use it as a tool to boost electric power generation by at least 10 times compared to existing geothermal energy approaches. The technology to implement this design already exists in different industries, so the researchers are optimistic that their new approach could expand the use of geothermal energy in the U.S.

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Environment drives genetic changes in Evolution Canyon

December 12, 2013 10:27 am | News | Comments

Interplay between genes and the environment has been pondered at least since the mid-1800s. But until the arrival of modern genomic sequencing tools, it was hard to measure the extent that the environment had on a species’ genetic makeup. Now, researchers studying fruit flies that live on opposite slopes of a unique natural environment known as “Evolution Canyon” show the driving force in the gene pool is largely the environment.

The heat pump in Europa's ocean

December 11, 2013 2:00 pm | News | Comments

Jupiter’s moon Europa features an intricate network of cracks in its icy surface. This unusual pattern is particularly pronounced around the equator. Scientists performing modeling studies on the potential marine currents below this ice layer have discovered that, near Europa’s equator, warmer water rises from deep within the moon.

Cold dis-comfort: Antarctica set record of -135.8

December 10, 2013 1:44 pm | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

A new look at NASA satellite data revealed that Earth set a new record for coldest temperature recorded. It happened in August 2010 when it hit -135.8 degrees. Then on July 31 of this year, it came close again: -135.3 degrees. That’s about 50 degrees colder than anything ever seen in Alaska or Siberia.

Chemists discover long-lived greenhouse gas

December 10, 2013 12:15 pm | by Kim Luke, Univ. of Toronto | News | Comments

Scientists from the Univ. of Toronto have discovered a novel chemical lurking in the atmosphere that appears to be a long-lived greenhouse gas (LLGHG). The chemical—perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA)—is the most radiatively efficient chemical found to date, breaking all other chemical records for its potential to affect climate.

Food-tech startups aim to replace eggs and chicken

December 9, 2013 1:35 pm | by Terence Chea, Associated Press | News | Comments

Funded by prominent Silicon Valley investors and Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Hampton Creek Foods seeks to disrupt a global egg industry that backers say wastes energy, pollutes the environment, causes disease outbreaks and confines chickens to tiny spaces. The company, which just started selling a mayonnaise made without eggs, is part of a new generation of so-called food-tech ventures that aim to change the way we eat.

Geoengineering approaches to reduce climate change unlikely to succeed

December 5, 2013 10:01 am | News | Comments

Two German researchers have used a simple energy balance analysis to explain how the Earth’s water cycle responds differently to heating by sunlight than it does to warming due to a stronger atmospheric greenhouse effect. This difference, their work shows,  implies that reflecting sunlight to reduce temperatures may have unwanted effects on the Earth’s rainfall patterns.

Study: Ocean crust lavas could store many centuries of industrial carbon dioxide

December 4, 2013 10:54 am | News | Comments

At high pressures and low temperatures, such as those in the deep oceans, carbon dioxide occurs as a liquid that is denser than seawater. Researchers in England have identified regions beneath the oceans where the igneous rocks of the upper ocean crust could safely store very large volumes of carbon dioxide.

Hubble traces subtle signals of water on hazy worlds

December 4, 2013 8:07 am | News | Comments

Using the powerful­ eye of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, two teams of scientists have found faint signatures of water in the atmospheres of five distant planets. The presence of atmospheric water was reported previously on a few exoplanets orbiting stars beyond our solar system, but this is the first study to conclusively measure and compare the profiles and intensities of these signatures on multiple worlds.

Federal study warns of sudden climate change woes

December 3, 2013 6:16 pm | by SETH BORENSTEIN - AP Science Writer - Associated Press | News | Comments

Hard-to-predict sudden changes to Earth's environment are more worrisome than climate change's bigger but more gradual impacts, a panel of scientists advising the federal government concluded Tuesday. The 200-page report by the National Academy of Sciences looked at warming problems that can occur in years instead of centuries. The report repeatedly warns of potential "tipping points" where the climate passes thresholds.

Airborne radar looking through thick ice during NASA polar campaigns

December 3, 2013 7:47 am | by George Hale, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center | News | Comments

Scientists are interested in how the shape of Greenland’s hidden bedrock affects how ice moves, and have been employing a powerful radar technique that has been used in Antarctica to see through thousands of feet of ice. Mapping this terrain a key factor in making predictions about the future of these massive ice reservoirs and their contribution to sea level rise in a changing climate.

Unusual greenhouse gases may have raised ancient Martian temperature

November 27, 2013 11:36 am | by Anne Danahy, Penn State Univ. | News | Comments

The presence of molecular hydrogen, in addition to carbon dioxide and water, could have created a greenhouse effect on Mars 3.8 billion years ago that pushed temperatures high enough to allow for liquid water. This is according to a team of researchers who believe this is the only way for giant canyons like Nanedi Valles could have formed.

Study: U.S. spewing 50% more methane than EPA says

November 26, 2013 11:37 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

The United States is spewing 50% more methane—a potent heat-trapping gas—than the federal government estimates, a new comprehensive scientific study says. Much of it is coming from just three states: Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. It means methane, which doesn’t stay in the air long but is 21 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide,  may be a bigger global warming issue than thought, scientists say.

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