The Eco News Roundup brings stories and commentary about issues related to climate change, renewable energy and the environment.
From extreme drought to super storms, many wonder what the future holds for the climate of the eastern United States. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, does away with the guessing. Results show the region will be hotter and wetter.
Tropical montane cloud forest trees use more than their roots to take up water. They also drink water from clouds directly through their leaves, University of California, Berkeley, scientists have discovered. While this is an essential survival strategy in foggy but otherwise dry areas, the scientists say that the clouds the trees depend on are now disappearing due to climate change.
Peach growers in California may soon have better tools for saving water because of work by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists in Parlier, Calif. Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientist Dong Wang is evaluating whether infrared sensors and thermal technology can help peach growers decide precisely when to irrigate in California’s San Joaquin Valley. ARS is USDA’s principal intramural scientific research agency, and the research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.
Stronger snowfall increases future ice discharge from Antarctica. Global warming leads to more precipitation as warmer air holds more moisture — hence earlier research suggested the Antarctic ice sheet might grow under climate change. Now a study published in Nature shows that a lot of the ice gain due to increased snowfall is countered by an acceleration of ice-flow to the ocean. Thus Antarctica’s contribution to global sea-level rise is probably greater than hitherto estimated, the team of authors from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) concludes.
The insurance industry, the world’s largest business with $4.6 trillion in revenues, is making larger efforts to manage climate change-related risks, according to a new study published December 13 in the journal Science. “Weather- and climate-related insurance losses today average $50 billion a year. These losses have more than doubled each decade since the 1980s, adjusted for inflation,” says the study’s author Evan Mills, a scientist in Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab)’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division. “Insurers have become quite adept at quantifying and managing the risks of climate change, and using their market presence to drive broader societal efforts at mitigation and adaptation.”
Just 20 years ago, the soils of the Amazon basin were thought unsuitable for large-scale agriculture, but then industrial agriculture — and the ability to fertilize on a massive scale — came to the Amazon. What were once the poorest soils in the world now produce crops at a rate that rivals that of global breadbaskets. Soils no longer seem to be the driver — or the limiter — of agricultural productivity. But a new Brown University-led study of three soybean growing regions, including Brazil, finds that soils have taken on a new role: mediating the environmental consequences of modern farming.
Researchers in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health assessed the impact of pollution on agricultural worker productivity using daily variations in ozone levels. Their results show that ozone, even at levels below current air-quality standards in most parts of the world, has significant negative impacts on worker productivity. Their findings suggest that environmental protection is important for promoting economic growth and investing in human capital in contrast to its common portrayal as a tax on producers. Results of the study are published in the American Economic Review.
A comprehensive map three years in the making is telling the story of humans’ impact on the Great Lakes, identifying how “environmental stressors” stretching from Minnesota to Ontario are shaping the future of an ecosystem that contains 20 percent of the world’s fresh water. In an article to be published online Dec. 17 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a group led by researchers at the University of Michigan reports on an expansive and detailed effort to map and cross-compare environmental stresses and the ecological services provided by the five lakes.
Phragmites australis, an invasive species of plant called common reed, grows rapidly into dense stands of tall plants that pose an extreme threat to Great Lakes coastal wetlands. Early treatment is the key to controlling Phragmites. But how can these invasive reeds be eradicated before they take over their environment if we don’t know where they are?
The Green Revolution has stagnated for key food crops in many regions of the world, according to a study published in the Dec. 18 issue of Nature Communications by scientists with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Led by IonE research fellow Deepak Ray, the study team developed geographically detailed maps of annual crop harvested areas and yields of maize (corn), rice, wheat and soybeans from 1961 to 2008. It found that although virtually all regions showed a yield increase sometime during that period, in 24 to 39 percent of the harvested areas (depending on the crop) yield plateaued or outright declined in recent years.
Here are some other links you may find worthwhile:
• Climate Change News Digest
• Climate Progress from Center for American Progress
• Rocky Mountain Institute “an independent, entrepreneurial nonprofit think-and-do tank™ that drives the efficient and restorative use of resources.”
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1. People matter more than profits.
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