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Scientists: Americans are becoming weather wimps

January 10, 2014 8:58 am | by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer | News | Comments

As the world warms, the United States is getting fewer bitter cold spells like the one that gripped much of the nation this week. So when a deep freeze strikes, scientists say, it seems more unprecedented than it really is.

Acid mine drainage reduces radioactivity in fracking waste

January 9, 2014 11:34 am | News | Comments

Much of the naturally occurring radioactivity in fracking wastewater might be removed by blending it with another wastewater from acid mine drainage, according to a Duke Univ.-led study. Blending fracking wastewater with acid mine drainage also could help reduce the depletion of local freshwater resources by giving drillers a source of usable recycled water for the hydraulic fracturing process.

Scientists to study Pacific Ocean’s “global chimney”

January 8, 2014 11:42 am | News | Comments

Although few people live in the Western tropical Pacific Ocean region, the remote waters there affect billions of people by shaping climate and air chemistry worldwide. Next week, scientists will head to the region to better understand its influence on the atmosphere—including how that influence may change in coming decades if storms over the Pacific become more powerful with rising global temperatures.

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The ocean’s hidden waves show their power

January 8, 2014 7:52 am | by David L. Chandler, MIT News Office | Videos | Comments

Their effect on the surface of the ocean is negligible, producing a rise of just inches that is virtually imperceptible on a turbulent sea. But internal waves, which are hidden entirely within the ocean, can tower hundreds of feet, with profound effects on the Earth’s climate and on ocean ecosystems.

Suburban sprawl cancels carbon-footprint savings of dense urban cores

January 6, 2014 4:56 pm | by Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley | News | Comments

According to a new study by Univ. of California, Berkeley researchers, population-dense cities contribute less greenhouse-gas emissions per person than other areas of the country, but these cities’ extensive suburbs essentially wipe out the climate benefits. Suburbs account for about 50% of all household emissions in the United States.

New compounds discovered that are hundreds of times more mutagenic

January 6, 2014 12:28 pm | News | Comments

Researchers at Oregon State Univ. have discovered novel compounds produced by certain types of chemical reactions, such as those found in grilling meat, that are hundreds of times more mutagenic than their parent compounds which are known carcinogens. These compounds were not previously known to exist, and raise additional concerns about the health impacts of heavily polluted urban air or dietary exposure.

Supereruptions triggered by melt buoyancy

January 6, 2014 9:02 am | by Simone Ulmer, ETH Zurich | News | Comments

By effectively “exploding” instead of erupting, supervolcanos release tremendous energy. Because none are currently “live”, how supervolcanos become active has remained a mystery. Geologists have now demonstrated that the pressure generated through the difference in density between magma and the surrounding rock alone can be sufficient to cause one of these geological giants to erupt.

U.S. opens door to new herbicide-resistant seeds

January 3, 2014 11:38 am | by M.L. Johnson, Associated Press | News | Comments

The U.S. Department of Agriculture opened the door Friday to commercial sales of corn and soybean seeds genetically engineered to resist the weed killer 2,4-D, which is best known as an ingredient in the Vietnam War-era herbicide Agent Orange. The U.S. military stopped using Agent Orange in 1971, and it has not been produced since the 1970s.

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Moroccan mountains float on molten rock, study finds

January 3, 2014 10:46 am | by Robert Perkins, USC | News | Comments

According to a new study, the Atlas Mountains in Morocco defy the standard model for mountain structure in which high topography must have deep roots for support. In a new model, researchers show that the mountains are floating on a layer of hot molten rock that flows beneath the region’s lithosphere, perhaps all the way from the volcanic Canary Islands.

El Nino tied to melting of Antarctica’s Pine Island Glacier

January 2, 2014 2:21 pm | News | Comments

Pine Island Glacier is one of the biggest routes for ice to flow from Antarctica into the sea. The floating ice shelf at the glacier’s tip has been melting and thinning for the past four decades, causing the glacier to speed up and discharge more ice. Understanding this ice shelf is a key for predicting sea-level rise in a warming world.

Earth's crust was unstable in the Archean eon and dripped down into the mantle

December 30, 2013 10:09 am | News | Comments

New model calculations indicate that the extreme density of the base of the thickened primary crust caused it to subside vertically, or “drip”, into Earth's mantle during the Archean eon, which began about 4 billion years ago. In contrast, the movements of today's tectonic plates involve largely lateral movements with oceanic lithosphere recycled in subduction zones.

Indonesia cave reveals history of ancient tsunamis

December 27, 2013 10:19 am | by Margie Mason, Associated Press | News | Comments

A cave discovered near the source of Indonesia's massive earthquake-spawned tsunami contains the footprints of past gigantic waves dating up to 7,500 years ago, a rare natural record that suggests the next disaster could be centuries away, or perhaps only decades. The findings provide the longest and most detailed timeline for tsunamis that have occurred off the far western tip of Sumatra island, where deadly 100-ft waves struck in 2004.

Study faults a “runaway” mechanism in intermediate-depth earthquakes

December 26, 2013 11:10 am | by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office | News | Comments

Nearly 25% of earthquakes occur more than 50 km below the Earth’s surface in a region called the lithosphere. But limited data and knowledge have prevented researchers from finding the cause of these intermediate and deep earthquakes. A team has recently found immense heating at high pressures at these depths, helping explain the “runaway” process propagates an earthquake in the lithosphere.

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Finding: Greenland ice stores liquid water year-round

December 23, 2013 10:15 am | News | Comments

Researchers at the Univ. of Utah have discovered a new aquifer in the Greenland Ice Sheet that holds liquid water all year long in the otherwise perpetually frozen winter landscape. The aquifer is extensive, covering 27,000 square miles and could figure significantly in understanding the contribution of snowmelt and ice melt to rising sea levels.

Jet-propelled wastewater treatment

December 19, 2013 7:55 pm | News | Comments

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Stuttgart have developed a new method for the active degradation of organic pollutants in solution by using swimming microengines. These tiny “engines” are made from platinum and iron and are highly efficient in removing organic pollutants from water using hydrogen peroxide.

Uranium found to be mobile in a natural wetland

December 19, 2013 7:39 pm | News | Comments

Researchers in Switzerland studying a natural wetland near a decommissioned uranium mine in Limousin, France, have shown that under certain circumstances the uranium present in the wetland could be more mobile than previously believed.

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.

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.

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.

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