The Eco News Roundup brings stories and commentary about issues related to climate change, renewable energy and the environment.


Clean air: Fewer sources for self-cleaning

Up to now, HONO, also known as nitrous acid, was considered one of the most important sources of hydroxyl radicals (OH), which are regarded as the detergent of the atmosphere, allowing the air to clean itself. A research group from J├╝lich has put an end to this conception. The new hypothesis is based on air measurements recorded by a Zeppelin NT within the framework of the EU PEGASOS project. The prevailing assumption about the role of HONO in atmospheric chemistry as a pure source of radicals now has to be completely overhauled. The results have appeared in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

‘Problem wells’ source of greenhouse gas at unexpected stage of natural gas production

High levels of the greenhouse gas methane were found above shale gas wells at a production point not thought to be an important emissions source, according to a study jointly led by Purdue and Cornell universities. The findings could have implications for the evaluation of the environmental impacts from natural gas production. The study, which is one of only a few to use a so-called “top down” approach that measures methane gas levels in the air above wells, identified seven individual well pads with high emission levels and established their stage in the shale-gas development process.

Nutrient-rich forests absorb more carbon

The ability of forests to sequester carbon from the atmosphere depends on nutrients available in the forest soils, shows new research from an international team of researchers, including IIASA. The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, showed that forests growing in fertile soils with ample nutrients are able to sequester about 30% of the carbon that they take up during photosynthesis. In contrast, forests growing in nutrient-poor soils may retain only 6% of that carbon. The rest is returned to the atmosphere as respiration.

Warm US West, cold East: A 4,000-year pattern

Last winter’s curvy jet stream pattern brought mild temperatures to western North America and harsh cold to the East. A University of Utah-led study shows that pattern became more pronounced 4,000 years ago, and suggests it may worsen as Earth’s climate warms. “If this trend continues, it could contribute to more extreme winter weather events in North America, as experienced this year with warm conditions in California and Alaska and intrusion of cold Arctic air across the eastern USA,” says geochemist Gabe Bowen, senior author of the study.

Methane climate change risk suggested by proof of redox cycling of humic substances

The recent Yokahama IPCC meeting painted a stark warning on the possible effects of gases such as methane — which has a greenhouse effect 32 times that of carbon dioxide. Now a team of Swiss-German researchers have shown that humic substances act as fully regenerable electron acceptors which helps explain why large amount of methane are held in wetlands instead of being released to the atmosphere. However, there are worries that if this system is disrupted it may enter into a vicious cycle to release large amounts of methane back into the atmosphere.

Study shows lasting effects of drought in rainy eastern US

This spring, more than 40 percent of the western U.S. is in a drought that the USDA deems “severe” or “exceptional.” The same was true in 2013. In 2012, drought even spread to the humid east. It’s easy to assume that a 3-year drought is an inconsequential blip on the radar for ecosystems that develop over centuries to millennia. But new research just released in Ecological Monographs shows how short-lived but severe climatic events can trigger cascades of ecosystem change that last for centuries.

Five anthropogenic factors that will radically alter northern forests in 50 years

In the most densely forested and most densely populated quadrant of the United States, forests reflect two centuries of human needs, values and practices. Disturbances associated with those needs, such as logging and clearing forests for agriculture and development, have set the stage for management issues of considerable concern today, a U.S. Forest Service study reports. The report — Five anthropogenic factors that will radically alter forest conditions and management needs in the Northern United States — was published recently by the journal Forest Science and is part of the Northern Forest Futures Project, an effort led by the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station to forecast forest conditions over the next 50 years in the 20-state region extending from Maine to Minnesota and from Missouri to Maryland. The study is available at: http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us/pubs/45716


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