23 April 2014

Proposed seawater-based air conditioning could benefit farmers

A proposed seawater air conditioning plant in Honolulu, Hawaii will draw cold seawater from the deep ocean, and a potential agricultural resource with it: phosphorus.
Credit: Sam Kimbrel

By Alexandra Branscombe WASHINGTON, DC – Discharged seawater pumped from the ocean and used for a renewable air conditioning system would overload surface waters with minerals that could potentially be captured instead for use in agriculture, according to a noted oceanographer. Pumps designed to move thousands of tons of water from the sea floor to a proposed Honolulu air-conditioning plant would bring up phosphates located hundreds of feet below the …

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3 April 2014

Cutting back on refrigerants could drop greenhouse gas emissions

Models of the atmosphere can be used to simulate how synthetic greenhouse gases are transported around the globe. The yellow, green and blue areas show the highest concentrations of climate-warming HFCs near to the areas where they have the highest emissions. When these models are compared to observations from the AGAGE network, researchers can determine the magnitude of emissions that would be required to bring the model into agreement with the data.
Credit: M. Rigby

Research published this month in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, calculates the environmental impact of phasing down hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, under the Montreal Protocol. The landmark 1987 agreement phased out the use of ozone-depleting refrigerants, like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), leading to increased used of replacements that include HFCs.

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31 March 2014

Nuclear waste: Goodbye ‘til 1,002,014?

Mining crews at the Department of Energy’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico. WIPP is built in salt rock, an impermeable and heat tolerant geological structure that is ideal for storing nuclear waste products. Finding a repository site that fit all or most of the geological safety criteria can be very difficult, said Professor Jean Bahr.
Credit: U.S. Department of Energy

There are so many ways that repositories for canisters of nuclear waste can leak that at least one country, Sweden, is engineering the canisters themselves to last a million years. In general, however, the integrity of nuclear waste repositories depends on a host of geologic factors, Jean Bahr, a professor of geoscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison said at a briefing earlier this month on Capitol Hill.

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11 March 2014

The grapes of Landsat

Technicians working on Landsat 7 before its 1999 launch. Landsat 7 and 8 are now in orbit, providing new images of the Earth’s surface every eight days. Scientists are using these images to help California farmers get a more complete picture of their fields’ irrigation needs.
Credit: NASA

California’s persistent drought is forcing grape growers to keep a more-attentive-than-normal eye on their vines, as water shortages and elevated temperatures alter this year’s growing season.

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5 March 2014

Regional nuclear war’s global reach

Sunset over ice on the Chukchi Sea near Barrow, Alaska. New research suggests that a regional nuclear war could trigger significant global cooling that would be
reinforced by an expansion of high-latitude sea ice. 
Credit: UCAR

Scientists for several decades have studied the potential environmental impacts of a nuclear conflict—either an all-out conflagration between superpowers or a more limited regional war. Now a research team led by scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research has produced an unusually detailed picture of the aftermath of a hypothetical regional nuclear war by using a modeling approach that includes simulations of atmospheric chemistry, the oceans, land surface, and sea ice.

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20 February 2014

Predicting future societies could aid climate change research

View of the Earth as seen by the Apollo 17 crew traveling toward the Moon. The climate change community is developing new socio-economic scenarios that could help climate scientists better predict the effects of climate change on the Earth.
Credit: NASA

What does a future society look like? Could it be one where people are far richer than they are today, but continue to burn fossil fuels in huge quantities? Might society decide to embrace renewable energy technologies, while its people become only slightly wealthier than they are now? What other futures might we expect?

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11 February 2014

Sniffing the Arctic winds

Instruments for weather monitoring, GPS and communication sit atop an O-Buoy in the ice. Scientists are using the floating chemistry laboratories to study the atmosphere over the Arctic.
Credit: Todd Valentic

The polar vortex made large parts of the country miserable this year with freezing cold air. But, in the Arctic, air temperatures were above average, sea ice grew slower than average, and the yearly ice cover continues thinning into sheets that break up in the summer. This shift is altering the chemistry of the air over the Arctic, and may affect the climate in ways that scientists don’t yet understand.

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13 January 2014

Earth could remain habitable far longer than previously thought

An artist's concept of Venus, where a thick atmosphere creates temperatures of more than 470 degrees Celsius (880 degrees Fahrenheit), according to NASA. Conditions on Earth are expected to become like those of Venus as the Sun's intensity increases, but a new study says the planet could remain habitable for the next 1.5 billion years and possibly longer. 
Credit: ESA

Our distant descendants may one day need to flee to other planets to escape fatally hot temperatures and boiling seas from a long-predicted and inexorable intensification of our Sun’s heat. A grim prospect. But, some good news, indicated by a study published Jan. 10, is that habitable places could remain on Earth for much longer than scientists had previously thought. That might mean more time for humanity to adapt to …

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18 December 2013

Santa Cruz Island tsunami more massive than previously thought

Santa Cruz Island tsunami more massive than previously thought

An 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck 70 kilometers west of Santa Cruz Island in the Solomon Islands Feb. 6. It triggered a tsunami that swept through tribal towns and wooden huts along a 20-kilometer stretch of coastline.

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17 December 2013

Former German mining site becomes laboratory for carbon dioxide storage research

Alexander Lübben samples carbon dioxide that seeps to the surface in Germany’s Upper Neckar Valley. Credit: Alexander Lübben

A local legend circulates in the Upper Neckar Valley in southeast Germany. It tells of a worker, a healthy, strong young man, who lay down one day beside the railroad tracks for a midday nap. The man never woke up, prompting speculation about his death that endures until today.

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