Highlights From the Week's News
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"Sewage and Sea Level Rise Plague Paradise." That story and other headlines for the week ending April 16, 2017[ Show/Hide Transcript ]
Environmental Group Claims Dow and Shell Used Farms as Dumping Grounds
California officials are expected to establish limits on a chemical pollutant that has been found in many water systems. About 28 years ago the California Water Resources Control Board detected the contaminant, known as TCP in drinking water systems. But neither the EPA nor the state set a limit on how much of the chemical could be in tap water.
TCP was used as a paint remover and a degreasing agent, and was also an ingredient in pesticides made by Dow and Shell that were widely used more than 30 years ago. TCP is a carcinogen that does not break down in soil, and can instead migrate into water.
The Environmental Working Group released a report last week showing that the state has detected TCP at higher than the expected limits in more than 90 California public water systems primarily in the San Joaquin Valley, which supplies much of the US with nuts and vegetables.
The environmental group claims that the TCP should never have been in the pesticides in the first place, because it had no role in killing the pests it was intended to control. In law suits filed by communities in the San Joaquin Valley documents obtained show that the companies left the chemicals in pesticides to avoid the costs of proper disposal. In effect the companies were using farmers to get rid of toxic chemicals, according to a spokesperson for the environmental organization.
Shell and Dow have paid multi-million dollar settlements to some communities for water filtration systems, but dozens of cases are still pending.
This Train Runs So Clean You Can Breathe Its Emissions.
A French company has made a train that looks just like a typical one running on diesel, but instead of running on dirty fuels it uses hydrogen and is pollution free. Last month it was successfully tested in Germany.
Fuel cells on top of the train combine hydrogen and oxygen generating electricity which is stored in lithium ion batteries. The only emissions from the train are steam and water making it much more environmentally friendly. The train’s project manager told CNN Tech that the steam is so clean you can breathe it in.
The Germans are impressed enough by the test runs that they have ordered 60 trains from the French firm. Each two-car train requires a 200 pound tank of hydrogen and can travel up to 500 miles a day at nearly 90 miles per hour. Another benefit: the train is nearly noiseless but for the sound of the wheels and rushing air.
This Vacation Destination Has Problems Underfoot—and Climate Change Is Going to Make Them Worse
Two reports from the Aloha state this week.
More than 3,000 cesspools have been closed in Hawaii since 2005. But as of last year there were still nearly 90,000 in the state. Cesspools collect and discharge untreated raw sewage into the ground allowing pathogens and harmful chemicals to pollute groundwater, streams and the ocean. They are more widely used in Hawaii than any other state according to the EPA. But one operator that was supposed to close its cesspools a long time ago and did not—the US Navy.
Recently the Navy agreed with the EPA to close three large-capacity cesspools on Oahu. The service had closed 6 others. The Navy will pay a fine of almost $100,000.
Groundwater supplies 99 percent of all domestic water in Hawaii, and it may be threatened by an additional problem—rising levels caused by climate change. As sea levels rise, the potential exists for urban areas to flood by water coming up from below the ground.
A computer model developed by researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa shows that real estate, roads and tourist attractions could be severely affected. And because the water will rise from the ground, no seawalls will protect Honolulu or Waikiki.
The study found that levels in some places, are already two feet below the ground at high tide. And researchers confirmed that almost 90 percent of the cesspools being used are likely already inundated.
Water from Air May Become Reality
Much attention was focused last week on the development of a new device that can pull water vapor out of thin air. Researchers at MIT, using materials created at the University of California Berkeley, have developed a water harvester that can produce H2O out of the air in even arid climates.
In testing over a 12-hour period the solar powered device was able to produce about 3 quarts of water on an MIT rooftop. To put it simply the appliance pulls water vapor out of the air at night and turns it into liquid during the day.
The scientists working on the project say that homes even in the driest parts of the world may soon have the devices which could help billions of people. The technology developed by UC Berkeley has other possible uses including the potential to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Thai Elephants Spray Jumbo-Sized Portion of Good Luck
And finally, it’s the Buddhist New Year, and in Thailand, it’s a time when people head out of cities to see friends and family and practice a host of solemn traditions. Rituals like cleaning images of the Buddha, washing the hands and feet of elders, offering food to monks—gestures meant to symbolize purification ahead of the new year.
The holiday also includes the sweet gesture of sprinkling water on loved ones to send wishes for a year filled with blessings—and if needed, to wash away sins and evil energy.
But these days in Thailand, that gentle splash has turned into all out dousing. Residents arm themselves with water guns and buckets to participate in what’s now called the "world's biggest water-fight." Rowdy revelers flood the streets to drench each other in a party that goes on for days. Some even make the pilgrimage to Thailand's old capital city of Ayutthaya where they can have the 'privilege' of being sprayed with water by trained elephants for a 'jumbo-sized' portion of good luck.
The New Year holiday happens during Thailand’s hot and dry season so welcomed by many as relief from the sweltering heat, but that doesn’t mean the country’s military government isn’t sweating it. Since taking power in a 2014 coup, they’ve tried to restore what they see as traditional Thai values that have been corrupted by outside, Western influences. They’ve instituted bans on skimpy clothing and restrictions on alcohol.
By all accounts, images of thousands often dressed in floral shirts—or less—enjoying street parties, means the government’s attempt to 'pour cold water' on festivities is getting 'drowned' out by people focused on fun.
"How to ‘Handel’ Coastal Erosion." That story and other headlines for the week ending April 9, 2017
Pesticides Linked to Bee Decline Found in Drinking Water
The controversial pesticides known as neonicotinoids have been found in tap water in two systems in Iowa. USGS and the University of Iowa conducted a study and found only trace amounts, but it is the first time they have been detected after water has been treated for drinking. Scientists are not certain of the effects of neonics on humans, but research has shown they are linked to declining bee populations.
Pruitt, Ignoring EPA Science, Overturns Obama Ban on a Chemical Affecting Children’s Brain Development
And there is other concerning news about another pesticide. Environmental groups have sued the Trump administration over its support of a compound known as chlorphyrifos. The Obama administration had recommended a ban on the pesticide which is used on many crops including corn, broccoli and strawberries.
But Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the EPA, ignored conclusions by experts in his own agency, and reversed the ban. Pruitt said that the EPA is returning to use of—what he called—sound science in decision-making. In stark contrast to Pruitt, Paul Towers, with the Pesticide Action Network said, "we know [this pesticide] can have a profound impact on children’s brain architecture and their lifelong learning."
Gorsuch: Good or Bad for the Environment?
Now that Neil Gorsuch has been confirmed as the next Supreme Court Justice, many water protectors and environmentalists are worried about how he will decide cases involving pollution. Gorsuch who has lived in Boulder, Colorado, skis and fishes, so one might think he would be concerned about environmental issues.
But that may not be accurate. In prior rulings Gorsuch has indicated that in some cases organizations like the Sierra Club will likely find it more difficult to get into court. In a case in which a group of fishermen and hunters sued the Forest Service for allowing motorcycles on trails, Gorsuch ruled they would not be injured and therefore could not sue.
But, Gorsuch did rule in favor people who had sued Dow Chemical and Rockwell over damages suffered from a former nuclear weapons plant near Denver. He voted to uphold a verdict of almost 1 billion dollars against the companies.
One of the major concerns is that Gorsuch will not defer to federal agencies, like the EPA when it interprets environmental laws. Gorsuch has shown that he is not a big fan of allowing agencies to interpret laws passed by congress.
While the jury may still be out on Gorsuch’s commitment to the environment, it is predictable that environmental and green groups will themselves find it harder to get in front of a jury.
We May Have Passed the Tipping Point on CO2 Emissions and that Means Humans Will Have to Adapt to Extreme Heat We’ve Never Experienced
If we continue to add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, it’s possible that life on earth will have to adapt to levels of extreme heat that the human have never experienced. That’s according to a new study by Scientists at Southampton University. They found that human’s use of fossil fuels is warming the planet at a rate higher than expected.
While some of the disastrous effects may not occur for a couple hundred years there is concern that we may have passed the tipping point where there’s not much that can be done. Science World Report notes that since 1960, there had been an incredible 30 percent growth of CO2 in the atmosphere.
And by the middle of this century, the new report says that, if our use of fossil fuels goes unabated, then we will witness levels of carbon in the atmosphere not seen since about 50 million years ago. The problem is that if warming continues, there is no way to predict how are planet will react. Geologic evidence for the past 500 million years gives us no clues.
And if that isn’t enough to freak you out, another study published last week theorized that the Arctic Ocean is changing fundamentally. The study published in the journal Science shows that the declining sea ice in the north is due to warming waters in addition to air temperature rise. The scientists say that the Arctic Ocean is becoming more like the Atlantic in which warm waters are on the top rather than on the bottom. Climate Central notes that sea ice during the Arctic summers could be a thing of the past.
Are You Feeling Like Spring Came Early in Your Area?
You may have felt that spring is arriving earlier. That’s the sense, too in Japan where warmer weather is affecting a cultural icon: cherry blossoms. The date that cherry trees bloom has been tracked for 1,200 years according to the Economist, and there is a disturbing trend.
Records show that almost 200 years ago the cherry trees would spring to life on about April 18th, but more recently the date has been around April 7th. When cherry trees flower is determined by temperatures in February and March and scientist say that warmer weather then is causing the early bloom.
King George I of England Was Slipping in the Polls and Realized He Needed to Do Something Bigly
And finally, in 1717, King George I of England was slipping in the polls and he realized he needed to do something bigly to win back support. His answer? He planned a massive party on the River Thames and invited everybody.
But no PR party is complete without memorable music, so the king tapped George Frideric Handel to compose the score and the result was the famous "Water Music" we know today. It worked. The public swarmed the river and its banks to take in the performance.
Fast forward almost exactly 300 years to New Orleans and the communications strategy is getting a modern reboot. On Saturday, composer Yotam Haber debuted his "New Water Music"—an elaborate performance involving the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, hundreds of community musicians, as well as boats, barges and buoys. The message? To raise awareness about Louisiana’s receding wetlands, coastal erosion, and changing lifestyles for fishermen. Louisiana loses 16 square miles of land a year—the fastest rate of loss in the world.
Thousands filled the Lake Pontchartrain shoreline to hear the performance, enjoy fish fry—and get important information about coastal issues. Haber appeared wearing a flowing cape held aloft by two assistants dressed as mer-people and conducted from a barge decorated with seashells and beads. Members of the orchestra were arranged on boats by section – percussion, woodwinds, brass, and so on, while other musicians were onshore and played in ship-to-shore call-and-response. As the music flowed more than a dozen shrimp and oyster boats moved in patterns and dipped and raised their nets in a water ballet.
Because of the massive distances between musicians, Haber conducted using naval flags and occasionally Morse Code. The choreography was so complex; it required coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. But the goal stayed simple. To create a swell of support for protecting coastlines and buoy the livelihoods that depend on healthy ecosystems.
We can 'Handel' that.
"After 140 Years, Indigenous People Win a Major Victory." That story and other headlines for the week ending March 19, 2017 [ Show/Hide Transcript ]
Physicians Warn About the Health Effects of Climate Change
More people are using their asthma medications in Montana due to wildfires; the tick season is lasting longer making Lyme disease more of a worry on the East Coast; and more violent storms and extreme weather events are causing severe damage, like that in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last year where 13 people died during extreme flooding.
These problems, along with others, have led a large organization of doctors to issue a report about health problems caused by climate change. The physicians are members of the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health and they’re warning that Americans need to become aware of medical problems associated with global warming. The organization represents more than half of the physicians in the U.S. and have reached the point where they find it necessary to inform the public.
Even if we are not aware of all the medical issues associated with climate change, a new Gallup poll shows that the public’s views of the problem are changing. 45 percent of Americans now say they worry a great deal about global warming. That’s the highest in nearly three decades. The poll also showed that almost 70 percent believe humans are causing the climate to change, and more than 60 percent are convinced we’re already experiencing its negative effects.
While some in the Trump administration and the Republican-led congress will not admit or recognize the problem, the new Secretary of Defense, James Mattis sees it differently. He stated recently that climate change is real and a threat to American interests abroad. ProPublica reports that Mattis has long espoused the position that the armed forces, for a host of reasons, need to cut dependence on fossil fuels and explore renewable energy where it makes sense.
El Niño Brings Devastating Floods to Peru
In Peru about 70 people have been killed and the number of homeless has increased since the deadliest rains in decades have hit the country’s coast. Nearly half of Peru has been affected, and the storms are expected to continue for another two weeks. More than 800 cities have declared an emergency, and the capital, Lima, has been without water for days. The health ministry has started fumigating around pools of water in streets to kill mosquitoes that carry diseases like dengue.
The BBC reports that Peru and other countries around the Pacific Ocean have been affected in recent months by the phenomenon known as El Niño, a rise in sea temperatures that increases evaporation and brings about heavy rains.
River in New Zealand Is the First in World to Gain Legal Rights
The Whanganui River in New Zealand is very important to the Maori people as the source of spiritual sustenance. They see it as a caregiver, and a guardian. It is the nation’s third longest river, and last week it was given legal status just like a human. The New Zealand Herald reports that the river now has all the rights, duties and liabilities that come with personhood.
Among other things, the river will now be represented in court proceedings where one person from the Maori tribes and one from the government will speak for it.
An official says that he knows some will say it's strange to give a natural resource a legal personality; but, it's no different than giving rights to family trusts, companies or a corporation. The Maori have been struggling for about 140 years to protect the river legally. When the law was passed hundreds of tribal representatives wept with joy.
The people who live along the Whanganui have a well-known proverb that says: "I am the river. The river is me."
Yoga Pants and Fleece Jackets Are Harming Ocean Wildlife
The things we wear for comfort and exercise may be polluting the oceans according to a new study. The two-year inquiry led by the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium found that tiny little plastic fibers from things like yoga pants or fleece jackets and anything that's nylon or polyester, shed microscopic pieces of plastic when they’re washed, and those tiny pieces find their way into fish, oysters, and other wildlife.
And a new follow-up study is being launched along the Gulf Coast to see just how prevalent the problem is.
The Associated Press reports that experts are suggesting that manufacturers of washing machines may need to be encouraged to include filters that reduce plastic waste. A study, conducted by volunteers in Florida, showed that nearly 90 percent of the samples included at least one piece of plastic, and among those, the smaller microfibers made up more than 80 percent.
One clothing company, Patagonia, is supporting research into microfiber pollution and is informing consumers about ways to minimize the effects such as laundering clothes less often and using a front-loading washing machine.
Sinkhole Celebrates First Birthday
And finally, there was cake; there were balloons and streamers—everything you’d expect at a birthday party...everything except that the guest of honor at this celebration was a hole—a 15 by 20 foot sinkhole to be exact that opened up east of San Francisco. Locals gathered at a busy intersection in the suburb of Moraga to sing happy birthday and joke, but they also wanted to call attention to the fact that the massive crater hasn’t been fixed for over a year.
Last March a series of El Niño-linked storms saturated the ground at the intersection causing the collapse, but one year later, the town says it doesn’t have the $3.3 million needed for repairs so, it's been left to jump through federal hoops to get the funds.
Sinkholes can occur for various reasons. Natural sinkholes can result over time from water seeping into the ground and eroding soil and rock. They can also be the result of drilling, mining, or even heavy traffic. Most often they form from broken water or drain pipes.
A spokesperson for public works said they’ve nearly completed the required paperwork and expect repairs to begin sometime this summer. As for the party goers their patience is running thin. Waiting another 4 more months for Washington to send the money? That leaves them 'Fed up' with the 'hole' business.
"Trump Tees Up Another Conflict." That story and other headlines for the week ending March 12, 2017
Pruitt Says We Don’t Know If CO2 Plays Role in Global Warming
It was a stunning statement. Even to those who suspected something like it was probably coming. Last week the new head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt said he would not agree that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming, adding that we don’t know yet what role CO2 plays.
But we do know what CO2 does to the atmosphere, and Pruitt is dead wrong at least according to the vast majority of scientists. The idea that there is uncertainty about the greenhouse gas – is contrived, or made up, according to Quartz an online news outlet. Four years ago, 2,000 international scientists found that the warming that occurred from 1951 to 2010 was extremely likely to be a consequence of human emissions of CO2 along with other greenhouse gases.
Stephen Pacala of Princeton University told Politifact that Pruitt’s statement means he does not accept the overwhelming scientific consensus.
And, his views even contradict some people in the fossil fuel industry. An executive vice president for Shell Energy said last week at a conference of energy producers that he was absolutely convinced CO2 can cause serious damage not only to this generation but to future generations.
Pruitt has not responded to requests to clarify his comments, but earlier he said that "the future of the EPA ain’t what it used to be," according to the New York Times. Last week Mustafa Ali, head of the EPA’s environmental justice program resigned after it was learned the Trump administration planned to cut his office entirely.
That office at the EPA was established by President Bill Clinton after activists identified a pattern of locating polluting industries in poor communities of color.
Also Stunning, the Announcement by Large Fossil Fuel Companies that They Are Going to Invest in Renewable Energy
In contrast to Pruitt, large oil companies are beginning to see the downside of fossil fuels. Royal Dutch Shell is not only talking about the negative effects of CO2 emissions, they are starting to invest in renewable energy.
The company announced that by the end of this decade it will spend $1 billion on renewables. While this amount is not that large relative to Shell’s budget, it is still significant. The chair of the company said that biggest challenge Shell faces is eroding public trust in their industry.
In January Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, said that it was considering a $5 billion investment in renewables.
Golf, POTUS, and WOTUS
Golfing is important to Donald Trump. Golf Digest, one of the leading publications for the sport, called him the "Golfer-in-Chief." So, it’s likely he was paying attention in 2015 when the Obama Administration announced a new rule that could lead to regulation of relatively small bodies of water.
Farmers and real estate developers attacked the new regulation saying it was an overreach by the government and a power grab. And so did the Associated Golf Course Superintendents who feared that ponds, lakes and streams on their grounds would be subject to the Clean Water Act.
But now the new president has ordered the rule be rescinded and rewritten, calling it one of the worst examples of federal regulation. In doing so he has teed up the issue of his conflicts of interest.
There are 17,000 members of the Superintendent’s group and the head lobbyist for the organization told Bloomberg that they are pleased to see an effort by the Trump administration to revisit the rule. That golfing group, which includes more than 20 Trump employees, spent $30,000 dollars lobbying against the regulation when it was announced.
On average, each golf course in the US has 11 acres of water bodies like lakes, ponds and streams. The golfing industry feared increased costs if they had to keep those waters clean according to EPA standards.
Trump has not divested himself of his business holdings which include 12 courses in the U.S.
Study: Intense Droughts Travel Like Hurricanes
New research shows that droughts may travel across continents in patterns that scientists can predict. The study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters shows that about 10% of droughts travel between about 900 to 2000 miles, and these tend to be the largest and most severe.
Julio Herrera-Estrada of Princeton University, who led the study, told Climate News Network that some intense droughts migrate like a slow-motion hurricane on a timescale of months to years instead of days to weeks. The importance of this work is that water managers might be able to cope with drought much better if they know where and when shortages could occur.
The next step for the researchers is to study the reasons droughts travel and to understand their behavior. This study comes as 20 million people in Africa and the Middle East are facing famine due in part to drought.
If You’re a Sleepwalker this Hotel May not Be for You—If You Catch Our Drift
And finally, an ideal vacation would include a hotel that lets you drift off to sleep in a beautiful place, right? Well, a Japanese theme park has got you covered—by taking the word "drift" literally. It’s launching floating sleeping pods at its island–based attraction.
The hotel "rooms" are futuristic looking orbs that can sleep up to four people, with beds, toilets, showers—plus a perfect view of the stars. Guests bob across the sea overnight and arrive at an island, which has numerous attractions that tourists can explore the following day. In theory anyway. It has yet to be revealed exactly how the floating spheres move across the water or if they’ll be monitored. For that reason people are divided on its appeal. One commenter told Naver's Matome News "Imagine waking up in the morning and finding yourself in North Korea!"
This isn’t the first time the company has pushed the envelope in accommodations. In 2015, the park opened the Henna-na Hotel, the world’s first to be staffed by robots. At their front desk a female humanoid appears to breathe, blink and for extra creeps seems to make eye contact as she greets you and answers questions about your stay.
The floating pods aren’t due to open until the end of the year, but if you do go, you might want to bring snacks. It doesn’t appear there will be room service of any kind. And if you did call the front desk—you might get this:
Hal: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
"How to Make the Great Lakes Not So Great Again." That story and other headlines for the week ending March 5, 2017 [ Show/Hide Transcript ]
Leaked Budget Reveals Flood of Cuts
The news last week centers on cuts, cuts and more cuts as a draft of the proposed federal budget was leaked from the dripping Trump administration. The document shows a 25% reduction in funding of the EPA and a 20% reduction in personnel.
ABC News obtained the proposed budget that would chop climate initiatives by 70% and make major reductions to programs like the restoration of San Francisco Bay, Lake Champlain in upstate New York, and Long Island Sound. And there’s much more, funds for The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative would be cut from 300 million dollars to 10. That program combats invasive species, restores wildlife habitats and cleans up watersheds polluted by Rust Belt factories.
Cleaning the Great Lakes has traditionally enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Congress. And even Republicans are pushing back. Representative Fred Upton of Michigan told MLIVE Media that the draft budgets are alarming and the Great Lakes must be a priority.
Other cuts include the EPA’s Environmental Justice program, which emphasizes cleaning up black, Hispanic and low-income communities that are disproportionately affected by pollution. Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, told the Guardian that the administration is sending a shameful message that the health of poor Americans is less important than that of the wealthy. The Trump administration’s final budget is due to be submitted by the middle of this month.
Also on the Chopping Block Is Funding for Research and Satellite Programs and That Could Jeopardize Safety
Even more slashing is proposed in scientific research done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The budget would curtail research and satellite programs. One satellite to be cut would collect necessary information to predict weather, make agricultural forecasts and help in disaster planning as the climate warms.
The Washington Post reports that the draft budget would also eliminate a variety of smaller programs, including coastal management efforts to strengthen shorelines to withstand major storms and rising seas.
Jane Lubchenco, NOAA administrator under Obama, said that 90 percent of the information for weather forecasts comes from satellites and cutting NOAA’s budget will compromise the agency’s mission of keeping Americans safe.
Farmers and Ranchers Are Ecstatic at the Possibility of this Obama-Era Rule Going Away
Two years ago, the Obama Administration enacted a rule that would define what waters in the country are covered by the Clean Water Act. Identifying those waters is no simple task. The Clean Water Act requires the federal government to regulate large bodies of water so that they are not polluted. But those larger bodies of water are fed by smaller streams, wetlands and rivers that are easily polluted by things like agricultural and urban runoff.
The purpose of the rule was to clarify which rivers, creeks and streams that connect to the larger water bodies are protected under the Clean Water Act, but the rule never officially took effect due to litigation.
Trump signed an order last week instructing the EPA and the US Army Corps of engineers to review the rule. Opponents of the Obama rule were ecstatic. Farmers and their political supporters say the regulation is an overreach and might threaten their private property.
But, it won’t be easy to get rid of the existing rule. The Washington Post explained that to eliminate it, there will have to be a full notice-and-comment period. And then the agencies will have to adequately respond to the comments they receive. After that it is highly likely that there will be lawsuits from both blue states and environmental groups.
Zinke Rides In and Gets the Lead Out
One contaminant that gets into water is lead used in ammunition and fish tackle. Ryan Zinke was sworn in last week as Secretary of the Interior. After riding to his new office on his horse, he promptly cut an Obama Administration rule that banned the use of lead in fishing and hunting on national wildlife areas. While some sportsmen applauded Zinke’s reversal, environmental groups criticized it, saying that spent lead casings cause poisoning in 130 species of birds and other animals.
The main objection to banning lead for hunting and fishing is that alternatives cost more. Even so some states including California ban the metal, and Arizona has offered substitutes for sportsmen who choose not to use it.
Know what a Leg Basket Is? You Might Not Need to If Global Warming Continues
And finally, there was a troubling statistic that came out of a conference held at the Vatican last week: One in five species on Earth now faces extinction, and that number will likely double by the end of the century. Researchers warn of an approaching ‘major extinction event’ caused by destruction of ecosystems, deforestation, overgrazing, and of course climate change.
Although endangered species like rhinos and tigers make headlines, the scientists say there are less famous plants and animals that we should be worried about, too. These species purify our air and water, regenerate soil, provide food and medicine—they make life on earth possible.
And as serious as losing leopards and lemurs is, destroying ecosystems could be causing the extinction of something else: words. According to Outside magazine, six nouns could go the way of the dodo bird because of climate change.
Terms like “leg basket.” That’s a structure on bees’ legs used to collect pollen. Bees are crucial pollinators that help produce our food and they’re threatened not only by pesticides, but also by shorter winters and shrinking habitats.
Another goner might be something called a “scallop dredge.” That’s a rake-like device dragged along the ocean floor to collect shellfish. Ocean acidification from burning fossil fuels is eating away at scallop shells and preventing growth of larvae.
And then there’s the more familiar “lift line.” Average global temperature has risen 1.5 degrees since 1880: warmer weather means precipitation that does fall will come as rain rather than snow at ski areas.
If all of this make you want to pour yourself something strong, sorry. Another word that might disappear is ‘Hogshead,’ that’s the word for the casks where wineries and breweries store their products. It might become defunct as prolonged drought and extreme heat are affecting yields and increasing pests.
The possibility that we’d have to face the annihilation without our favorite stout or merlot? That leaves us at a loss—for words.
"Feds: Pollution? OK! Pot? Not!" That story and other headlines for the week ending February 26, 2017
Scott Pruitt Thinks States Need More Leeway to Pollute. One State Is Already Taking Him up on It.
The Trump administration is set to start the work of dismantling climate and water rules as early as next week. That’s according to new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt who spoke last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC. Pruitt wants to give states more of a say in air and water protection to ensure that regulations are reigned in.
An example of what he might mean is being played out in West Virginia where a bill that would allow more pollution to be discharged into rivers and streams was approved by a legislative committee. The bill would change the way pollutants are measured so that discharge permits would allow significantly more contaminants in water, according to a consultant who spoke with the Charleston Gazette Mail.
The bill is being pushed by the state Manufacturers Association with the support of Governor Jim Justice. The Governor said in his State of the State address that regulators should stop standing in the way of business growth. He denigrated state environmental inspectors saying they wear t-shirts, old jeans and haven’t shaved in forever.
According to Angie Rosser, with the Western Virginia Rivers Coalition, it comes down to whether the legislature wants more toxic and cancer-causing chemicals in the water—or not.
While the New Administration May Crack Down on Pot, Colorado Just Made it Easier to Grow.
While the feds want to allow states more leeway with pollution regulations, not so fast with marijuana. White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the administration expects federal officials to enforce drug laws prohibiting marijuana in those states that now allow recreational use.
The feds will continue to allow medical pot, but the Trump spokesman said that he believes recreational use may encourage people to try opioids—basically the theory that weed is a gateway drug. But, the marijuana industry is already quite large employing thousands.
One state benefiting from legalization is accommodating the industry particularly in its use of water, even as the administration gets mad over reefers. A little more than a week ago, a court in Colorado approved an application to use water to grow pot for both medical and recreational use.
The company asking for the permission wants a water right to irrigate up to 3,000 pot plants. The application was filed in the complex water courts in Colorado, and was approved even though pot is still a controlled substance as the White House pointed out.
Aspen Journalism reports that there may not be an appeal of the decision granting the water right. It seems the main objections were not to the use of the water, but instead the amount required. The Colorado court pointed out that while federal law may ban pot, it does not ban using water to grow marijuana.
Water Protectors at Standing Rock Evicted One Day Before the Pope Warns of Water Wars.
Last Friday Pope Francis said that access to clean drinking water is a basic human right. His remarks came as he met with 90 international experts who participated in what was called a "Dialogue on Water" held at the Vatican.
The Catholic News Service reports that the pope cited statistics from the UN that said each day 1,000 children die from water-related illnesses, and millions of people consume polluted water daily. The pontiff also said that he asks himself if we all are headed toward a world war over water.
The struggle to protect water from pollution has led to violence as most know in North Dakota, maybe not on the scale feared by the pope, but still with people being attacked by dogs, water cannons, and bullets.
The day before the pope made his remarks, police officers in North Dakota removed all remaining water protectors from the main Standing Rock camp. Videos of the police action resemble military operations with armed vehicles, and riot clad officers heavily weaponized.
At one time the Standing Rock Camp contained 10,000 people, but last week only 70 remained according to Vice News.
New Study Shows Much Greater Risk From Fracking Spills
There is a new study about fracking and its potential threat to water which shows that threat is more significant than thought. This new report, done by researchers at Duke University, looked at spills not only during the fracking process itself, but long after drilling—as much as ten years. The study found that there had been nearly 7,000 releases or spills from fracked wells over a ten-year period in four states: North Dakota, Colorado, New Mexico and Pennsylvania.
What was significant about this new research is that a prior study by the EPA found only about 460 spills in a shorter period, but that EPA report did not look beyond just a few days after drilling. The new work showed that about half of the spills occur around storage of liquids and moving them through pipelines.
Most of the spills studied occurred in North Dakota where police just removed protesters from the Standing Rock site.
Hair-Raising Contest Could Net You $750
And finally, we’ve all had bad hair days when we want to hide, but that uncooperative hairdo of yours—it could score you some cold, hard cash. Operative word being cold. People from all over the globe are heading to Canada to create the most artistic hairstyle possible—by freezing it. The most dramatic coif could win $750!
To enter the contest you have to get yourself to Takhini Hot Pools in the Yukon and soak in their hot springs. And it’s gotta be cold enough—somewhere in the neighborhood of negative 4 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t worry. The pool is toasty—averaging about 108 degrees—and for that reason it emits a lot of steam, which then freezes your hair.
The Takhini website gives step-by-step instructions for the best results which include the caveat that it could take a while. Two of the steps in the process are "Wait" and then "Wait some more." Eventually your hair will be ready to sculpt to a design limited only by your imagination. Think Medusa, or Einstein.
When you’re ready, take a selfie and submit it to the contest. Winners will be announced mid-March. Curious to see the “hair-raising” early submissions? Go to our website at H2O Radio dot org to see the frozen bobs, or as the Daily Telegraph called them, "perm-a-frosts."
"Waterways Threatened with Nuclear Waste" and other headlines for the week ending February 19, 2017 [ Show/Hide Transcript ]
It Would Take Less than Two Ounces of Radioactive Uranium to Destroy a City’s Water Supply. Should We Really Ship It on our Highways?
The nation’s highways may become a bit more dangerous this spring. On Tuesday, the Department of Energy announced that shipments of solid nuclear waste will soon start moving along our roads to an underground repository in southern New Mexico.
The shipments were halted three years ago after a radiation release contaminated the facility, known as WIPP—for Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. Most of the waste will come from Idaho—61 truckloads in all—but that is just a small fraction of the 900 shipments that are supposed to be made from that state by the end of next year.
All the nuclear waste going to New Mexico is solid, but the Department of Energy also announced last week that it is planning to ship liquid nuclear waste along highways from Canada to the Savanah River Site in South Carolina. As Mother Jones reports, there will be at least 100 to 150 separate truck shipments of liquid nuclear waste over a period of about three years.
Environmental groups including the Sierra Club and Beyond Nuclear recently sued to force the government to prepare a new environmental impact statement before starting the shipments. But a federal judge in Washington, D.C., is allowing the shipments to go forward.
The liquid waste poses a bigger threat to the environment than solid waste if spilled into waterways or lakes. Less than two ounces of the radioactive uranium could destroy a city's water supply, according to Gordon Edwards, of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.
If a spill contaminated the Great Lakes or any other waterway it could be permanent. Officials will not disclose the routes for the shipments which makes it impossible for people to take any action to prevent them.
Residents in Mosul, Iraq, Have Resorted to Sledgehammers and Shovels in Order to Get Water
It’s been about three weeks since Iraqi forces took control of eastern Mosul from ISIS. And life is extremely difficult there. The water and sewer systems are not working.
Two reporters from the New York Times learned last week how residents in the liberated areas are getting water. Using a sledgehammer to pound a steel pipe through concrete, and shovels to dig, people have reached water sometimes after working for three days. They said that they don’t drink the water but only, use it only for washing clothes and cleaning dishes. People can buy bottled water for drinking in some parts of liberated areas.
Iraqi forces are beginning an assault on the western part of Mosul. On Saturday, The United Nations warned that up to 800,000 people are at "extreme" risk due to lack of food, fuel supplies, and acute shortages of drinking water.
The Questionable Safety of the Oroville Dam Is Nothing New
Last week nearly 190,000 people were evacuated when officials worried that parts of the Oroville Dam in Northern California could fail. Luckily that didn’t happen but another storm is forecast to deliver heavy rain to the area and it was possible another evacuation order could be issued.
The questionable safety of the Oroville Dam is nothing new. The San Jose Mercury News reports that a little more than 10 years ago, three environmental groups told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that the dam did not meet safety standards. They said fast-rising water would overwhelm the concrete spillway and then flow down the emergency spillway, possibly leading to flooding downstream. But the state of California and various water supply agencies said the upgrades were not necessary, and the feds agreed.
So, the near-disaster at Oroville has brought renewed attention to the problem of aging dams. As detailed in Fortune Magazine, 65% of dams in the U.S. will be past their 50-year designated lifespan in three years. And the American Society of Civil Engineers rates almost 4,000 dams as being susceptible to failure.
The crisis with dams will be exacerbated by climate change which is predicted to bring more extreme weather events and put stress on already weakened infrastructure.
Oceans Are Losing Oxygen, and that Could Have Detrimental Consequences
A study published last week in the journal Nature concludes that the oxygen content in earth’s oceans declined by more than 2% between 1960 and 2010. That’s concerning because just a little loss of oxygen in coastal waters can lead to a complete change in ecosystems according to David Baker, at the University of Hong Kong. He told CNN that the drop may have detrimental consequences for fisheries and coastal economies because fish can’t survive in dead zones created by the lack of oxygen. The dead zones also pump out nitrous oxide another harmful greenhouse gas.
The cause of the decline is partly a result of climate change—warmer waters hold less oxygen. But as the surface waters get warmer, the oxygen is less likely to sink to layers below.
Baker said that the oceans are really a mirror of human health—if they're sick and dying, then that's the future of mankind as well.
Did You Hear About NASA's "Space Poop Challenge"? It Went Smoothly.
And finally, when you gotta go, you gotta go and that can be challenging if you’re an astronaut. It’s not like you can just pull into a gas station.
NASA has been working on this problem and has made advances since the days of plastic bags. The fancy International Space Station toilets suction human waste, and then jettison it from the ship where it catches fire in the atmosphere, looking like shooting stars. But what they haven’t quite got down is what to do on space walks. Right now astronauts wear diapers. But they’re limited. They’re only good for about 10 hours.
What the space agency wants is something that will allow the astronauts to be out and about for longer—days not hours. If we’re going to explore places like Mars we’re going to need to keep astronauts safe from their feces and urine. So, they announced the “Space Poop Challenge” to crowdsource a solution. About 5,000 people from more than 150 teams submitted some pretty badass ideas.
The winner was Thatcher Cardon, a family physician and Air Force flight surgeon. Inspired by operating techniques like catheters he came up with a concept to locate a tiny valve in the suit’s crotch through which astronauts can insert and remove expandable diapers and underwear.
Wondering about the toilet paper? Cardon’s plan includes something called a "hygiene wand"—a tip covered with bunched fabric that is pulled in a motion similar to a sock being turned inside out.
NASA engineers are going to take the top three winning ideas and test them for their next generation spacesuit. Their lab notes for the poop in a suit? We’d call that a "Captain’s log..."
"That Sinking Feeling in California," and other headlines for the week ending February 12, 2017
Hydropower Is Getting Edged Out as the Leading Renewable Power Source
Wind power is huge. There is no other possible conclusion to draw from data released last week that shows the capacity to generate power from wind has surpassed hydro power in the United States.
Hydroelectric dams have been the main source of renewable energy since before 1936 when Hoover Dam started operations, but the head of the American Wind Energy Association told Bloomberg that wind turbines will soon supply a tenth of the country’s electricity.
And job figures in wind energy generation keep on climbing. The Department of Energy reports that a little over 100,000 people are now employed directly in wind power generation plants, as compared to only 86,000 who work in coal fired plants.
A Group of Republicans Have Hatched a Plan to Combat Climate Change
Staying with the topic of energy, six former US government officials, all Republicans, met with the Trump Administration last week to express their support for a tax on carbon pollution.
The group including former Secretary of State James Baker are promoting what they see as free-market solutions to climate change. They propose imposing a tax on fuels like coal of $40 per ton of carbon dioxide produced. It could result in raising 200 to 300 billion dollars a year.
And that money would in turn be paid by the government to consumers in what would be called a carbon dividend. It’s estimated that a family of four could receive a 2,000-dollar check a year.
The plan comes as an alternative to the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which has attracted the wrath of Republicans.
Some critics have said that these types of proposals aren’t good because they prolong the use of fossil fuels instead of rapidly switching to renewables that do not add carbon to the atmosphere.
Enbridge a Backer of the Dakota Access Pipeline, Springs Another Leak
The Army Corp of Engineers granted an easement last week for the Dakota Access Pipeline. The decision came as no surprise after the new president indicated he would instruct the permit to be issued.
In response, U.S. Army Veterans are returning to Standing Rock with plans to shield Native American water protectors from attacks by militarized police, according to the Guardian. Among the objections to the project are its potential to leak, and harm water supplies of people in the area, mostly members of the Sioux Tribe.
Those concerns are real. A little less than a week before the Army granted permission for that project, 600,000 gallons of oil spewed out of a pipeline about 50 miles from Dallas.
That Texas pipeline is half owned by the company known as Enbridge. And Enbridge also has an interest in the Dakota Access Pipeline, according to Desmogblog. This latest leak is the second in this pipeline. Last October Reuters reports that there was another problem with the same line leaking in Oklahoma.
The Recent Precipitation in California Is Solving Some Problems but Might Not Fill This Hole
Storms have recently been hitting the west coast with rain and snow leading to flooding in areas. Much of California is finding some relief from the drought, but the rainy season is not over and there are areas continuing to suffer.
Even as conditions on the surface improve, the over pumping of groundwater mainly in the San Joaquin valley is causing land to sink in some areas - and at a startling pace. Last week the California Department of Water Resources released a report done by NASA. The study shows that there are two main subsidence areas that create bowls—where the surface has sunk.
In just 16 months from spring 2015 to fall 2016 the ground sank nearly two feet near Corcoran, and about 16 inches near El Nido. These aren’t small sink holes, one bowl runs for 60 miles and the other is about 25. Together they cover hundreds of square miles. One of the major water supply lines, the California Aqueduct has dropped more than two feet in parts of Kings County. The damage is causing cutbacks in the amount the aqueduct can carry south. The director of the Department of Water Resources told the San Jose Mercury News that the current rate of ground subsidence is jeopardizing infrastructure that supplies water to the San Joaquin Valley.
The recent rains will not likely fill the underground aquifers because once they sink they collapse on top of each other leaving no room for water to collect. The NASA satellites that measure ground subsidence are extremely precise, and you can hear more on this subject in our interview with NASA scientist Jay Famiglietti at H2O Radio.org.
For This Valentine’s Day, How One Clever Lover Overcomes Being a Small Fish in a Big Pond
And finally, Valentine’s Day is this week and if you don’t have a date, here’s a story about a guy out in the cold who took matters into his own hands—or fins as it were.
Cichlids are rare tropical fish that live in spring-fed pools in Mexico. Their society is polygamous, so large males hoard all the females and that makes for a lot of lonely guys.
But that didn’t stop one small fish from coming up with a strategy to get the girl. Here’s what he did. He hid nearby as a male and female fish were about to mate. Typically females will deposit their eggs on rocks and a male will follow immediately after and cover them with a cloud of sperm. But at the crucial moment as the female placed her eggs, the little guy burst onto the scene, dusted them with his DNA and then dashed back to his hideaway.
The behavior is called “sneaking” and it’s rare—known to only occur among only a few dozen species out of tens of thousands worldwide. And it was all caught on tape. A Case Western Reserve University researcher, Ron Oldfield had a huge tank in his office and recorded the underdog pulling off this feat.
In his video the couple are seen attacking the interloper to drive it away, but the sneaker still managed to “insert” himself several times before the pair finished spawning. And the little guy doubled down. Not only did he interrupt the lovers he attacked other males swimming nearby.
The video recordings are among the first of this sneaking behavior published about any animal. So in case Professor Oldfield wants to make his video into a blockbuster, we think we have a catchy title...
How about "Sex, Size, and Videotape."
"The U.S. Fumbles the Ball" and other headlines for the week ending February 5, 2017
Are You an “Urban Eco-Imperialist"? If You Care About the Environment, You Might Be
The U.S. government seems to be leading the race to the bottom of the list of those nations concerned about climate change.
When he was campaigning, the new president said that he would tear up the Paris Climate accord that has been signed by 197 countries, but he has not acted yet. Because of Trump, other countries no longer view the United States government as the leader in the struggle to save the planet from global warming.
China is now emerging as the nation at the forefront. Gregory Barker, climate change minister to former British Prime Minister David Cameron, said that if America won't lead then it's clear that China will. The Asian powerhouse is leading the world in solar power generation. The National Energy Administration announced Saturday that China is the world's biggest producer of solar energy having doubled its photovoltaic capacity last year.
But it’s not just solar, China recently overtook the US as the largest market for electric vehicles, and Chinese companies are now challenging Tesla’s lead. At the World Economic Forum Chinese President Xi Jinping called on all countries to hold fast to the hard-won Paris Agreement warning that walking away from the accord would threaten future generations.
The new American administration’s negative view of scientists concerned about climate change was underscored last week by Myron Ebell who headed Trump's transition team for the Environmental Protection Agency. Ebell said at a conference in Brussels, that environmental experts are what he calls “urban eco-imperialists.” He criticized them saying that the climate industrial complex has figured out how to get rich by alarming people.
The EU observer reported that Britain’s former energy and climate change minister responded by telling Ebell to stop trashing experts, and that denigrating learning and expertise sends a terrible message to young people.
U.S. Navy Responds to Climate Change
While the White House and the Republican led Congress seem poised to ignore climate change and its effects, the U.S. Navy does not have the luxury to bury its head in sandy beaches as sea levels rise.
The U.S. military has viewed global warming as a problem since 2003, if not earlier, according to retired General Gerry Galloway who spoke with the Voice of America. The Navy confronts rising sea levels all over the world. In Norfolk Virginia, the rising surf damages electrical, water, and steam lines under the piers, and high waves can keep sailors from getting to their ships. In response, the Navy now builds piers higher, and places utility lines under a protected concrete deck. Even getting to the naval base is harder as "nuisance flooding" becomes a regular problem, cutting off roads around the city of Norfolk.
And on the other coast, Marketplace reports that the Ventura County Naval Base in California, is seeing impacts from storms and flooding. The base has lost about 400 feet of beach since the 1940s, and buildings that were far away from the waves, are now close. To deal with the problem, the California naval base has partnered with The Nature Conservancy to help with its decision making. Lily Verdone, from the Conservancy, said the agreement with the Navy signed last summer is the first public-private partnership to address climate adaptation on Defense Department lands.
At least to the U.S. Navy climate change is no hoax.
Congress Cuts Stream Protection Rule to Promote Dying Coal Industry
In efforts to save the dying coal industry, both the U.S. Senate and the House voted last week to roll back Obama administration rules that would have cut the levels of coal waste getting tossed into nearby streams.
When the rules were issued last December the Department of the Interior said that they would require companies to avoid mining practices that permanently pollute streams, destroy drinking water sources, increase flood risk, and threaten forests. It would also have required companies to restore streams and mined areas. The bill focused on the mining technique of shearing off mountaintops where the debris is cast aside and often into nearby streams.
Forbes business magazine noted that undoing these regulations won’t change the coal industry’s fate, because the biggest coal-fired utilities are ditching their older plants and they are not building new ones. Instead, they are switching to natural gas and renewables. Nationally, 300 coal plants have been shuttered since 2008 and more are scheduled to close.
Drought Threaten Millions in Somalia with Famine.
Millions of people in Somalia face starvation after two seasons of drought have led to food shortages. In the last six months, the danger of famine has increased to threaten 3 million people with an emergency food crisis, according to the UN. To put this in perspective, that’s like the entire city of Chicago—plus more—facing severe hunger.
The UN is calling for a massive and urgent increase in humanitarian assistance in the coming weeks. The drought has wiped out crops and killed livestock. Communities are being forced to sell their assets to survive.
February’s Favorite Rodent Is Threatened by Climate Change.
And finally, last week marked Groundhog Day. The annual tradition in which a famous rodent, Punxsutawney Phil, emerges from his burrow to see his shadow—or not as the case may be—to tell all those assembled when winter will end. For the record, this year Phil did see his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter. So we wondered, how often is Phil right?
Folks at the Washington Post wondered, also. They ran the numbers on 250 cities over thirty years and found out that sometimes he’s right, but it really depended on what cities, and in the end, the marmot was no more accurate than a coin toss.
To make matters even worse for poor Phil, climate change may put him out of a job anyway. According to Climate Central for most of the country, except the west, temperatures in the winter are warming faster than during the other three seasons.
And more bad news for Phil. Roelof Hut, at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, told Gizmodo that climate change could shorten Phil’s life. Hibernating species like groundhogs have periods of deep sleep, broken up every few weeks with arousal times in which they expend their fat reserves. A warmer climate means groundhogs will wake up more, to the point where they deplete their fat, get too skinny, and maybe die.
Maybe with climate change threatening poor Phil’s life, the people of Punxatawney should let him sleep in and instead allow meteorologists to use science to predict when spring will arrive.
"Pipelines, Purges, and Protests" and other headlines for the week ending January 29, 2017
The Standing Rock Sioux Are Standing Up to Sue Again
In a week that saw significant pipeline leaks, the President breathed new life into two controversial projects. He signed an order instructing the Army Corps of Engineers to review and approve in an expedited manner, the permitting of the Dakota Access Pipeline. And the president also invited pipeline company TransCanada to resubmit its application for the Keystone XL that had been rejected by the Obama administration.
While this was occurring, in Iowa a diesel fuel pipeline spilled almost 140,000 gallons in what a Department of Natural Resources supervisor called "a big one." And in Saskatchewan about 53,000 gallons of oil leaked from a hole in a pipeline on the lands of the Ocean Man First Nation 90 miles southeast of Regina.
Regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline, The Standing Rock Sioux tribe said it would file suit, and water protectors considered returning to resistance camps near Bismarck, North Dakota. Some of them had left the camps after the Army said late last year that an environmental impact statement would have to be done before it would allow the pipeline to move forward.
The water protectors at Standing Rock have had a significant impact. So much that they have prompted desperate responses from those in the North Dakota legislature. One lawmaker urged passage of a bill that would make it a crime to wear a mask during a protest. Many water protectors wore scarves that partially hid their faces. Another bill would exempt drivers from liability if they unintentionally injured or killed a pedestrian who was obstructing traffic on a public road. Some of the protests at Standing Rock were on highways and bridges. And two North Dakota representatives introduced a resolution last week calling for the congress to give the states the ability to manage the affairs of Indian tribes.
It was not clear if any of these reactionary, and probably unconstitutional measures would pass.
CDC Quietly Cancelled Its Climate Conference, But It’s Been Resurrected
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abruptly and quietly canceled its Climate and Health Summit shortly after Trump was elected, according to E&E News.
But the conference has been revived due to efforts of some including former Vice President Al Gore. The environmental champion announced Thursday that the event will go on in Atlanta, on February 16 but not at the CDC, instead at the Carter Center.
Gore said in a statement that health professionals urgently need the very best science to protect the public, and climate research has increasingly critical implications for their day-to-day work.
The CDC has offered no explanation for canceling the conference but there is some indication that it was from fear of the new administration. Like other gagged agencies who have created rogue social media accounts, there is also one for the CDC with a masthead stating "Join the Resistance."
Purge and Political Screening of Scientific Studies and Data
The climate change conference was not the only victim of the new administration’s purge. Within moments of the inauguration, the official White House website took down all references to global warming and climate change science.
The replacement pages contain an energy development plan emphasizing fossil fuels, and opening public lands to drilling and mining. It is said that all of this is being done by the Administration to free the US from dependence on foreign oil, and to lower the cost of energy. However, as the business magazine Forbes pointed out, energy in America is the cheapest it’s ever been in our history, and more oil and gas is being produced than ever.
The administration has also announced that it will be scrutinizing reports and data generated by the EPA. The political screening of scientific studies covers new work but also those generated in the past. In our recent story, "Drilling Apart Democracy," we spoke with a former EPA scientist who is deeply concerned that science won’t matter anymore.
The anxiety over what could happen to federally funded research has scientists frantically copying data from government sites to preserve and protect it.
Two-Mile Gap in Arizona
A two-mile long crack in the earth’s surface has opened in the Arizona desert. In places the gap is 25 feet deep which is quite dangerous for livestock, other animals and humans. Joe Cook of the Arizona Geological Survey told KVOA that the ground is sinking because of water withdrawals in the area for years. He said there were cow skeletons in some of the crevices and he himself helped pull a calf out of a fissure.
Besides this crack, Arizona officials have mapped more that 170 miles of fissures across the state. If water supplies from the Central Arizona Project are curtailed due to ongoing drought, there will likely be more ground water pumping leading to more subsidence and more fissures.
In other Arizona developments, it is likely that wastewater will soon be permitted to be used as drinking water...After treatment, of course. The plan has been mocked as toilet to tap, and until now has not been allowed. The Tucson Water director told the Arizona Daily Star that water reuse’s time has come and it is needed sooner rather than later.
You say tomato, I say tomahto
And finally, if you’re a gardener you know how great a fresh tomato plucked from the backyard vine can be. A complete opposite from that watered down, tasteless blob you get from the grocery store.
But fear not Caprese salad lovers! Help is one the way!
Researchers at the University of Florida have figured out what’s wrong with modern tomatoes, and revealed that answer in a study published in the journal Science. For decades, breeders have selected traits that produced bigger, more disease resistant, shippable tomatoes with a long shelf life. What they left out? Flavor.
And because this breeding took place so slowly over time, nobody noticed.
To fix the problem the old-fashioned way, by crossing an heirloom with a modern tomato, would take a long time, so instead the researchers mapped the genomes of 398 different kinds of tomatoes to identify traits that make them delicious.
Building a better Beefsteak is still a few years off. Turns out, tomatoes are a complex interplay of compounds—especially sugar. Growers know consumers prefer sweeter tomatoes, but sweeter means smaller fruit size, which could drive up labor costs and eventually jack up the price in the produce aisle.
Burger lovers everywhere are hoping that eventually science will "ketchup" and be able to deliver a better tasting tomato.
"There’s Water Under the Water" and other headlines for the week ending January 22, 2017
These Untapped Fresh Water Resources Might Be Enough to Fill the Great Lakes Twenty Times. Where Did They Come From?
There is a source of clean and drinkable water in an unlikely place–underneath other waters.
That’s right, there’s freshwater underneath the oceans in isolated aquifers and its gaining attention as we realize how precious water is becoming.
Some estimates of the amount contained in these sub-ocean aquifers figure there’s enough to fill the Great Lakes 20 times, according to Hakai magazine. How did it get there? Brandon Dugan, an associate professor of petro physics at the Colorado School of Mines, says it’s from ancient glaciers and “when those glaciers retreated those waters were stuck beneath the shore line and offshore.”
He says that as glaciers advanced and retreated over thousands of years, they put heavy pressure on the melting water underneath, “like squeezing water out of the sediments onshore and pushing it offshore.”
Dugan says the water is neither renewable nor permanent. If we’re able to harvest it, it could be a resource as populations grow and sea levels rise and encroach on onshore reserves.
Although these types of aquifers are found worldwide many cross international borders and that might raise trans boundary water issues. Some aquifers in the U.S. cross state boundaries and others stretch into Canada and Dugan says, “offshore Norway it will also cross international boundaries and we’ll have to think about who actually governs these resources.”
Currently there are a couple of projects under way to see if these undersea aquifers can become feasible sources of drinking water in the future.
If He’s Confirmed, He Will Be Suing Himself
Senators held hearings last week about the new president’s appointments and when it comes to water there could be a lot of turbidity. The nominee to be head of the EPA, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, if approved must decide whether and how to enforce the Clean Water Act.
Pruitt has sued the agency he now wants to lead 14 times to overturn water and air standards, and some of those cases are still pending. About 18 months ago he sued the EPA over its new rule to define which U.S. waters are protected.
But when asked if he would recuse himself from ongoing cases, he would not commit.
Should he not step aside, Pruitt will have the power to make EPA settle cases he brought against it on own his terms. In other words, he will be in control of both sides of the case.
Bold Move by Governor Could Provide Massive Spending on Water Quality
But although governance over water at the federal level may seem distressing to some, there was positive news out of New York.
Last week in his state of the state address Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed 2 billion dollars be spent on improving water quality in the Buffalo Niagara region and the rest of New York State.
Environmentalists were happily shocked by the proposal describing it as amazing, according to the Buffalo News, and state senator Timothy Kennedy called the investment “visionary.”
Cuomo’s plan will not only involve replacing water and sewer lines but will also pay for ways to prevent water pollution in the first place such as keeping contaminants like manure and pesticides as well as road salt from running off the land into creeks and streams. The proposal would pursue improved land management policies and green infrastructure projects like constructed wetlands that filter runoff before it reaches a sewage system.
There’s an unsolved mystery in a remote region near the Arctic Circle and now the Canadian military is going to investigate. The government is dispatching acoustic specialists in response to local Inuit concerns about a strange beeping sound emanating from the ocean floor.
Residents of the tiny village of Igloolik have been hearing the ping since last fall and they say it’s loud enough to be heard through boats hulls. Worse, it’s scaring away the sea mammals they rely on for food. The hamlet is located between the Northwest Passage and Hudson Bay, a migratory passage for bowhead whales, narwhals, and seals, but local legislator Paul Quassa told the CBC that this past summer they disappeared.
The Canadian Forces dispatched aircraft to the region, but didn’t detect any sounds at the time.
There are no shortage theories about the mystery. Locals suggest it's related to sonar surveys by a mining company, extracting iron ore from Canada's Baffin Island although the company told the CBC it isn't surveying in that area. Others say it could be generated on purpose by Greenpeace to scare wildlife away because they opposed seal hunt in the 70s and 80s. Greenpeace denies that assertion.
Or the sound could be completely natural. Scientists have noted several unusual sounds coming from our oceans such as reef fish who “sing” at dawn and dusk or the waves in the Caribbean that “whistle” so loud they can be detected from space.Even if the mysterious ping turns out to be natural and harmless, Quassa said that staying attuned to our environment is always a good idea. Strange sounds, sights and smells could provide an early warning of some building ecological problem, and people who live nearby are the first line of defense.
A "Fin"-tasitic Way to Relieve Stress
And finally, this weekend saw millions march around the globe for women’s rights and human rights. Not to make light of those demonstrations, but there’s been another small group making waves for their rights, too—the freedom to be mermaids.
The MerNetwork is a Seattle community whose members are giving up their lives on land for one in the sea. To be clear the group and their forum where mermaids and mermen connect has nothing to do with the recent election. It’s about being true to yourself.
Take Caitlin Nielsen, a thirty-year-old who prefers to be known by her mermaid name, "Cyanea." Even though she has a degree in biology, she quit her job in that field so she could be a mermaid full-time. She supports herself by crafting handmade tails out of silicon.
For Ed Brown, being a “merperson” is about being comfortable with who you are and has helped them overcome social anxiety. Mermaid Tessie agrees. She told Barcroft TV that being in a community like this has helped with body insecurities, and she also uses her role as a mermaid to promote ocean conservation.
All three say that when they dive into a pool or the ocean, the act of being a mythical-creature is a chance to live out a dream or fantasy—and give them a way to temporarily escape from reality.
Wow. Given the direction of our country right now, we’re thinking of getting some mermaid tails of our own.
"A Massive Federal Payout for Water Contamination" and other headlines for the week ending January 15, 2017
Atmospheric Rivers Deliver Some of What Was Needed in California – But at What Cost
So-called “Atmospheric Rivers” came roaring into the West last week and the weather phenomenon put some record-breaking numbers on the scoreboard. Atmospheric Rivers are streams of moist air up to hundreds of miles wide that can carry roughly as much water as the Mississippi River.
By mid-week the latest one dumped more than 5 and half inches of rain on San Francisco - and in LA, the rain level was 167% of average for this point in the season. But where it really counts is in the Sierra Nevada mountains because snow there will be much of California’s water supply come spring and summer. An astounding 12 feet of the white stuff fell in the Tahoe area that had rivers like the Truckee swelling.
While all this moisture might be good for the parched state, it's potentially disastrous for endangered salmon. Aquatic Ecologist, Eric Ettlinger, told SF Gate that in the North Bay of San Francisco, raging torrents are destroying newly laid Coho salmon eggs. The Coho live in creeks in dense redwood forests that have been running low because of the drought. Now they have the opposite problem. Of course, the question many are asking is what effect these storms may have on the California Drought.
The U.S. Drought Monitor reported that over 40% of California is no longer in a drought. And the snowpack in the Sierras last week was 163% of normal. Mandatory water restrictions may be lifted this spring, but heavy moisture now does not mean it will continue. And, if restrictions are not relaxed now when so much precipitation occurs, officials worry that people will not take conservation measures seriously when they are needed again.
Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute wrote in the San Jose Mercury News that the real question to ask is not whether the drought is over, but rather: is water being managed sustainably—and he said it was not.
There is Improvement in Flint but Frustrations Boiled over at a Recent Town Hall Meeting
A town hall meeting last week in Flint, Michigan addressed the continuing water crisis. Government officials told residents that they need to continue to use filters or bottled water, and it will take probably 3 years to replace all the water lines in the city. That did not go over very well.
At times people crunched empty plastic water bottles as a protest, And some shouted at the panel.
Things have improved somewhat. The Detroit News reports that lead levels are down in Flint, and Marc Edwards a Virginia Tech scientist who initially assisted in identifying the problem, said that bacteria levels are dramatically lower than a year ago. Replacing pipelines quickly has been hindered by a lack of funding.
Families Who Suffer from Cancer and Other Illnesses Due to Contaminated Water May Finally Get Relief
From the late 1950s until the late 80s close to one million people who served in the U.S. military were stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. They all were possibly exposed to drinking water contaminated with various toxic chemicals.
The federal government agreed last week to provide over $2 billion in disability benefits to those who contracted certain illnesses and conditions because of the exposure. The contamination was from industrial chemicals that were stored in leaking tanks and included benzene, vinyl chloride and perchloroethylene, among others. They can cause several types of cancers and various illnesses.
Jerry Ensminger, who heads up the veterans’ group advocating for benefits, told US News that it has been a long hard slog to get to the settlement. His daughter was born while he was stationed at Lejeune and died of leukemia when she was nine. He has been fighting for 20 years to get the federal government to admit that people at the camp were exposed to the contaminated water. It was his case that prompted Congress to pass a law in 2012 giving medical care to affected service men and their families.
Another Case of Congress Repealing, and Then Replacing with What?
Besides the Affordable Care Act, the new Congress led by Republicans is preparing to eviscerate another Obama Administration plan. This time it’s a rule proposed by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers that would define what is covered under the Clean Water Act.
In 2015 the two agencies crafted a rule that critics say expands the government’s authority to regulate bodies of water. But the rule never went into effect after opponents temporarily stopped it in court. That litigation is still pending but could become irrelevant if the Congress acts.
One of the typical examples raised by critics of the new rule is that it would allow regulation of puddles of water on a farmer’s land. They complain that the feds could stop what farmers say are routine activities, according to Ag Alert, a newspaper for California agriculture.
The real difficulty is to determine what should be regulated under the Clean Water Act. Supreme Court decisions have not clarified what water or wetlands are protected.
The Congress may overturn the EPA’s definition through legislation before court cases can try to resolve the issue. Just like the Affordable Care Act, however, they don’t know what should come next. And it is likely they will return the issue to EPA and the Army Corps to develop new definitions.
Receding Reservoir Reveals Remarkable Relic - Really
And finally, this story is not about a disappearing act, but rather, a reappearing one. It all started back in 1958 when a vast water project was constructed in southeast China that submerged 63 villages and towns beneath a reservoir.
Recently, the lake’s levels had to be lowered about 30 feet to renovate a hydropower gate. As the water levels dropped, local villagers discovered something breathtaking—a centuries-old statue of the Buddha emerged, with his head peeking just above the water line!
Based on the style of the statue’s head, experts believe the Buddha was carved in the Ming Dynasty, which ruled China from the 14th to 17th century. The retreating water also revealed rectangular holes carved into the cliff which could mean that a temple existed there.
Currently archaeologists are on-site with sonar equipment to perform an underwater investigation. Maybe they’ll discover some of the Buddha’s wisdom about water? Like this quote?
“Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, the wise man, gathering it little by little, fills himself with good.“
Or that old adage “keep your head above water.” Either way, sage advice and we’ll work to fill your intellectual reservoirs with good information this year.
"Living in the Stone Age in 2017" and other headlines for the week ending January 8, 2017
Yet Another Day Without Water in Damascus
While many people rang in the new year with celebrations last Sunday, over five and half million in Damascus woke up to yet another day without water. Residents in the war-torn capitol of Syria, have been struggling for more than two weeks to get water after their two main supplies were cut off. An official writing for the catholic charity, Caritas, likened the situation to being back in the stone age.
Some residents have been able to access water for up to two hours every three or four days, and many have turned to private distributors, where neither price nor quality are regulated. There were also reports that the water that did make it to Damascus was contaminated with diesel fuel.
Now the United Nations Children’s Fund is warning that waterborne diseases are a risk to youth because they have only contaminated water to drink. A UNICEF spokesperson said that most children they met walked at least half an hour to the nearest mosque or public station to collect water where they had to wait in line for up to 2 hours in freezing temperatures.
A ceasefire had been arranged to allow engineers access to one of the water facilities to make repairs, however, Reuters reports as of January 8th that the Syrian government resumed airstrikes in the area as no truce was in place.
A Major Rift the Size of Delaware
Over the past several weeks a rift has been growing and it’s not political in nature. Instead, scientists warn that this crack will lead to a giant ice berg breaking off Antarctica. The new iceberg will be about the size of Delaware, and will be one of the ten largest ever observed.
But the breakaway of this berg is not a climate event so much as it is a geographical—according to the researchers who spoke to the BBC. The crack that is leading to the break-up has been present for decades, they say, but it has grown much more recently.
The scientists believe that climate warming has advanced the likely separation of the iceberg, but say they have no direct evidence to support this conclusion. The rift in the ice is currently about 100 miles long, and only 12 miles of ice connects the large mass to the main ice shelf. The breakoff of this massive iceberg is significant because the resulting ice front will be at its most retreated position ever recorded, and will leave the whole ice shelf vulnerable to future disintegration.
January Weather comes in like a lion but will it bring drought relief for California?
Weather is a big news story as we enter 2017. On the west coast, the year is starting of a lot wetter than in the recent past. A powerful storm dropped up to four feet of snow in mountain areas of northern California. The heavy moisture is going to continue. A massive atmospheric river is forecast to bring much additional rain.
Flood and flash flood watches have been posted for parts of northern and central California including the San Francisco Bay Area, western Nevada and southwest Oregon. Rainfall of up to a foot is possible on the western slope of the Sierras.
The coming storms this week are like a conveyor belt, according to Bill Patzert of NASA who spoke to the San Jose Mercury News saying, “You get this once in a decade.”
Will these storms end California’s water crisis? Doug Carlson with the California Department of Water Resources said that to get out of the drought there would need to be above-average precipitation, and above average water content in snow which would need to continue the entire year.
A New Kind of “Seal Team Six” Will Have Their Riskiest Mission Ever
Since the early 1960s the U.S. Navy has used dolphins to locate underwater mines and detect enemy swimmers. But now some of these highly trained marine mammals will have a new assignment that might be their riskiest ever.
A group of military bottlenose dolphins, dubbed the “Seal Team Six,” will use their deep-diving and sonar skills to save what can arguably be called the planet’s cutest—but most endangered marine mammal—the “vaquita.”
Vaquita are shy and tiny porpoises that have been under threat since the 1990s, mostly from drowning in gillnets that local fishermen use to catch another critically endangered fish called a “totoaba.”
The totoaba’s swim bladder, has been called “aquatic cocaine” because of its high-street value in Asia where it’s sold on the black market as an anti-aging cure. A totoaba bladder can fetch as much as $5,000 a pound according to the Huffington Post.
Jim Fallin of the U.S. Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific told The Associated Press that his team, in collaboration with Mexican authorities, plans to deploy dolphins to the Gulf of California―the only place in the world where the vaquita live. If one of his Seal Team Six dolphins finds a rare vaquita, they’ll swim to the surface to alert their handlers. If the Navy can actually capture an elusive vaquita, the mammal would be transported to a special holding facility for protection.
The mission is considered risky because vaquita have never been known to thrive in captivity. For that reason, not everyone is on board with the plan. Omar Vidal, director general of the World Wildlife Fund of Mexico, told the online journal Science that the risk of killing a vaquita while catching them is too high given that there are only estimated to be 50 or 60 animals left in the world. Barbara Taylor, a marine mammal geneticist with NOAA told the Verge the better strategy is to help the remaining vaquitas live in the wild by increasing enforcement of the gillnet ban.
Go Ahead and Blow Off that New Year's Resolution
It’s become an annual ritual. On January 1st, thousands of people around the globe leap into icy waters of a lake or pond to welcome in the New Year. From Brooklyn to Berlin thrill-seekers worldwide, some in costume, some just in skimpy bathing suits, braved frigid waters for an adrenaline rush, in many cases to raise money for a cause or just for bragging rights of doing something kooky.
“Polar plunges” as they’re called are becoming increasingly popular, but we wondered: are they safe?
According to Joseph Herrera, director of sports medicine at Mount Sinai Medical School in New York, probably not. In an interview with Popular Science he said the human body isn’t really suited for freezing water. As soon as you enter the water your body goes into something called “cold-shock” which is an involuntary response that makes you take a giant gasping breath. The cold water causes blood vessels to constrict to maintain heat on the outer part of the body, which makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to internal organs.
While some people tout the “health benefits” of such shocks to the body, Herrera says there’s no science to back that up.
But if you’re determined to make this annual rite of passage his advice is to train—and start now. Swimming in cold water during the year will help you pack on extra fat to keep you warm next January.
But that might conflict with that other resolution you make every year—to lose that spare tire.
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