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21 February 2022

Muddy Water Has Town Official Singing the Blues

Coastwatch GLERL NOAA imagery December 17, 2021 (annotated). Several years ago, when our kids were young and at least one was still in elementary school, I visited a class of 3rd graders taught by a friend of the family’s and put on a soil erosion demonstration. The “show and tell” consisted of setting up rainfall simulators for two contrasting land cover types represented by two baking pans: one filled with …

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5 August 2020

Massive Ammonium Nitrate Explosions: Beirut, Texas City, and West, Texas

As Beirut struggles with the aftermath of an enormous explosion apparently caused by thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a dockside warehouse, it is notable that the world has seen such disasters before. What follows is a re-posting of an article I wrote and posted here in 2013 called “Deja Vu: Remembering the 1947 Texas City (Fertilizer) Disaster.” Why did the authorities decide to store such a massive …

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23 February 2020

Lake Erie is Nearly Frost-Free

For the past couple of days, we’ve been lucky to have some all-too-infrequent sunny days, giving us some sunshine to lift our spirits and send us searching for our sunglasses. The clear weather is also a good time for an updated MODIS image of the Lake Erie Basin. The image above shows the lake is nearly ice-free except for some narrow shoreline areas in the western basin. The surface water …

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9 January 2019

Scientists breathalyze cows to measure methane emissions

Cattle burps are the number two source of methane in the U.S., but it’s tricky to measure exactly how much methane one cow produces in a day. That’s why researchers at the USDA-ARS Conservation and Production Research Laboratory in Bushland, Texas set out to use a number of different methane assessment methods — including a “breathalyzer for cows” — to determine the methane emissions of free-range cattle on Oklahoma grasslands.

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20 July 2018

Science & Agriculture: Engagement is a Two-Way Street

Authorship of this guest blog is credited to Rafael Loureiro, PhD. Loureiro is a Research Scientist with Blue Marble Space Institute of Science and an Assistant Professor at Winston-Salem State University. The ability to ask questions and, more importantly, search for its answers defines our very human nature and shapes our scientific views of the universe and of our place in it. Evidence and open dialog are quintessential parts of …

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16 February 2018

Chemical Cocktails Confound Phosphorus Management

It’s been fifty years since the Canadian government at the urging of the International Joint Commission set aside the Experimental Lakes Area near Kenora, Ontario in 1968 to conduct large-scale experiments in aquatic ecology. There, the young Director named David W. Schindler, who would go on to become a world-renown limnologist, and others conducted experiments with nutrient loading and produce one of the most iconic photos in the field of …

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9 January 2018

Elections may be a catalyst for deforestation, new research suggests

Democratic elections may be a catalyst for deforestation, according to new research. A study that examined deforestation rates during election years found that competitive elections are associated with higher rates of deforestation. The reason? Politicians are trading trees for votes, according to the researchers.

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22 December 2017

Scientists engineer microbes to form ‘memories’ of their environment

Microbes like bacteria aren’t conscious enough to form memories, but a group of scientists in Texas developed a new way for them to do so at the genetic level. Researchers report they’ve successfully engineered microbes to report on their environments and form genetic “memories” of the event. It’s a tool that could help scientists better understand chemical cycling on Earth and how microbes share information like antibiotic resistance with one another, according to the researchers.

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8 September 2017

Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Ag Programs Under Review

The Great Lakes Commission (GLC) has received a two-year $750,000 grant to evaluate the effectiveness of money spent on farm conservation programs by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). In addition to the GLC, Ohio State University and Michigan State University will play a role in the evaluation process. Earlier this year, the Trump Administration proposed to end funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and National Sea Grant programs. …

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29 August 2017

Unprecedented levels of nitrogen could pose danger to Earth’s environment

Humankind’s contribution to the amount of nitrogen available to plants on land is now five times higher than it was 60 years ago, mainly due to increases in the synthetic production of fertilizer and nitrogen-producing crops, according to a new study. This increase in nitrogen parallels the exponential growth of atmospheric carbon, the main culprit behind climate change, and could pose as much of a danger to Earth’s environment, according to the study’s authors.

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17 May 2017

Researchers track groundwater loss during drought in California’s Central Valley

A new study from researchers at UCLA and the University of Houston reveals estimates of significant groundwater loss in California’s Central Valley during the recent drought and sparks questions of sustainability for the important agricultural area.

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12 April 2017

One-fifth of world’s population depends on food imports

Countries unable to feed their growing populations are increasingly importing food to meet demand, a new study finds. Nearly half of the world’s population lives in areas where imports compensate for food scarcity and one-fifth of the world now depends upon these imports to survive, according to the new study.

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31 March 2017

Wetlands and Flood Mitigation: The 10 Percent Solution

Following the Great Flood of 1993, an official report called for more research to find ways to prevent flood devastation, apparently unaware the problem had been mostly solved, conceptually over a decade earlier. But taking action through the implementation of a national wetland restoration program has faced intractable political and economic obstacles.

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18 February 2017

Keep Your Shirt On, Save Some Coral?

This is not great news, especially for those of us who like to be out in the sun but get really bad sunburns. As reported by Nature and Scientific American, Hawaii state senator Will Espero has introduced a bill to ban sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, two chemicals that may pose risks to us, such as endocrine disruption, as well as to coral. The Environmental Working Group maintains lists of …

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13 January 2017

Scientists try to mitigate methane, from cows

There are about 33 million cattle in Mexico, where a few scientists are experimenting to concoct a cow diet that will reduce methane emissions.

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15 November 2016

Rejected Export Corn Prompts Class Action Suit

Updated 16 November 2016 When it’s assumed that food grown using modern high-tech agriculture, including GMO crops and greater reliance on chemical pesticides, is absolutely necessary to feed a growing world population, one might be tempted to question that assumption when the most populous nation in the world rejects such food. Syngenta Litigation There are some angry farmers in the U.S. who, in 2013-2014 were unable to sell their GMO …

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30 September 2016

Lake Erie Algae Blooms Correlate to June Rainfall

June precipitation appears to be positively correlated to algae blooms in Lake Erie. Looking at monthly precipitation data readily-available from Weather Underground and comparing it to the Western Lake Erie Algae Bloom Severity Index, I was surprised by the strength of the correlation (0.6, 0.85 with an “outlier” removed). June precipitation was the only month to correlate to the Severity Index in my data set and I was surprised that …

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3 July 2016

Lake Erie Watershed Soil Phosphorus Study Shows Glyphosate Link

As reported recently by Laura Barrera in the magazine No-Till Farmer, a study led by Ohio Northern University chemistry professor Christopher Spiese links the popular herbicide glyphosate to dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) desorption in soils. Mobilization and runoff of phosphorus to streams and lakes is associated with toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone. For decades, soil scientists have understood phosphorus to form low-solubility compounds …

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16 June 2016

Half of U.S. Corn Crop Now Goes to Ethanol

Farming has always been about energy. We eat food for energy our bodies need to survive. But now American farming is increasingly about filling gas tanks as well as bellies. At a typical gas station found along an interstate highway, one can fill up on gasoline blended with 10% ethanol made from corn, pay for it using a plastic card, perhaps made from corn, pull around the side of the …

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1 June 2016

Herbicides, Critical Source Areas, and Vegetated Buffers

Waging Chemical Warfare on Weeds Last fall, while on one of my country road walking routes, I noticed an advanced infestation of marestail (Conyza canadensis) in a soybean field. Evidently, this weed, and others, is becoming herbicide-resistant. A new agricultural herbicide called Acuron (link goes to manufacturer’s website) is on the market, and in some fields. Acuron has been developed in response to “superweeds” that have grown resistant to glyphosate, …

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