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

Record Missouri flooding was manmade calamity, scientist says

At the end of December 2015, a huge storm named “Goliath” dumped 9-10 inches of rain in a belt across the central United States, centered just southwest of St. Louis, most of it in a three-day downpour. The rain blanketed the Meramec Basin, an area of 4,000 square miles drained by the Meramec River, which enters the Mississippi River south of St. Louis.

The Meramec’s response was dramatic. Gauging stations recorded a pulse of water that grew as it traveled down the main stem of the Meramec River, setting all-time record highs in the lower basin in the Missouri cities of Eureka, Valley Park and Arnold.
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Why was the flooding so bad? Most news reports blamed it on the heavy rain, but Robert Criss, PhD, professor of earth and planetary sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, said there was more to the flood than the rain.

Man-made underwater sound may have wider ecosystem effects than previously thought

Underwater sound linked to human activity could alter the behaviour of seabed creatures that play a vital role in marine ecosystems, according to new research from the University of Southampton. The study, reported in the journal Scientific Reports published by Nature, found that exposure to sounds that resemble shipping traffic and offshore construction activities results in behavioural responses in certain invertebrate species that live in the marine sediment.

Central Appalachia flatter due to mountaintop mining

Forty years of mountaintop coal mining have made parts of Central Appalachia 60 percent flatter than they were before excavation, says new research by Duke University. The study, which compares pre- and post-mining topographic data in southern West Virginia, is the first to examine the regional impact of mountaintop mines on landscape topography and how the changes might influence water quality.

Secondhand smoke: Nations producing less greenhouse gas most vulnerable to climate change

A new study by University of Queensland and WCS shows a dramatic global mismatch between nations producing the most greenhouse gases and the ones most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The study shows that the highest emitting countries are ironically the least vulnerable to climate change effects such as increased frequency of natural disasters, changing habitats, human health impacts, and industry stress.

Plastic debris crossing the Pacific can transport more species with the help of barnacles

The smooth surfaces of much of the plastic waste rapidly increasing in the ocean appear to provide poor habitat for animals — that is, until barnacles step in. University of Florida researchers discovered that diverse communities of rafting animals can inhabit even the smoothest pieces of plastic debris if barnacles step in first to create complex habitat, similar to trees in a rainforest or corals in a reef. That means plastics could better transport foreign species across oceans than previously believed, said Mike Gil, who, as a doctoral candidate at UF, led the study published Jan. 27 in Scientific Reports.

Forest losses increase local temperatures

An article by JRC scientists published today in Science, reveals that the biophysical effects of forest losses substantially affect the local climate by altering the average temperature and even more the maximum summer temperatures and the diurnal and annual variations. These effects are most obvious in arid zones, followed by temperate, tropical and boreal zones. Forests affect climate in two ways: by absorbing carbon dioxide and storing large carbon pools in tree biomass and forest soils, and by modulating the biophysical surface properties and affecting the land-atmosphere fluxes of energy. This research focuses on the biophysical effects and is based on joint Earth observations of global changes in forest cover and of surface temperature performed during the decade 2003-2012.

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Photo Credit: Huy Mach (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)