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Complete Archive (organized by chapter)
New World View
Climate Change
Life and Climate
Losing Biodiversity
Energy Flow
Ecosystem Change
Population Growth
Energy Use
A Changing Cosmos
ABCs of Digital Earth Watch Software

Latest News and Updates

2016-05-20. Unplugging the Colorado River.

posted by Alan Gould

By Abrahm Lustgarten, The New York Times. For GSS Energy Use chapter 4. Excerpt: When Glen Canyon Dam was built in the middle of the last century, giant dam projects promised to elevate the American West above its greatest handicap — a perennial shortage of water. These monolithic wonders of engineering would bring wild rivers to heel, produce cheap, clean power and stockpile water necessary to grow a thriving economy in the desert. ...Climate change is fundamentally altering the environment, making the West hotter and drier. There is less water to store, and few remaining good sites for new dams. Many of the West’s big dams, meanwhile, have proved far less efficient and effective than their champions had hoped. They have altered ecosystems and disrupted fisheries. They have left taxpayers saddled with debt. And in what is perhaps the most egregious failure for a system intended to conserve water, many of the reservoirs created by these dams lose hundreds of billions of gallons of precious water each year to evaporation and, sometimes, to leakage underground. is not just the reservoir’s overuse that is causing it to shrink. More than 160 billion gallons of water evaporate off Lake Powell’s surface every year, enough to lower the reservoir by four inches each month. Another 120 billion gallons are believed to leak out of the bottom of the canyon each year into fissures in the earth — a loss that if tallied up over the life of the dam amounts to more than a year’s flow of the entire Colorado River. ...Glen Canyon is not the only dam to fall out of favor. Other major projects are also being decommissioned or re-evaluated. The Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead, which on Wednesday fell to its lowest level ever, some 145 feet below capacity, also loses hundreds of billions of gallons to evaporation and is now 37 percent full. The lake behind Arizona’s Coolidge Dam, one of the state’s largest reservoirs, is virtually empty. ...Six Western dams were deconstructed in 2015 alone. Just last month California and Oregon agreed to dismantle four more power-generating dams on the Klamath River, having realized that the facilities were crippling native salmon fisheries, which also have enormous economic value....

2016-05-20. New Solar Plants Generate Floating Green Power.

posted by Alan Gould

By Erica Goode, The New York Times. For GSS Energy Use chapter 10. Excerpt: An expanse of blue solar panels stretches across part of the Yamakura Dam reservoir in Japan’s Chiba Prefecture. In two years, if construction goes as planned, 50,904 panels will float atop the reservoir, generating an estimated 16,170 megawatt hours annually, enough electricity to power almost 5,000 homes, according to Kyocera, the company building the solar plant. ...Unlike most land-based solar plants, floating arrays can also be hidden from public view, a factor in the nonprofit Sonoma Clean Power Company’s decision to pursue the technology. “Sonoma County boasts some of the most beautiful rolling hills, and people don’t want to see them covered by solar panels,” said Rebecca Simonson, a senior power analyst for the renewable energy developer, .... The floating arrays have other assets. They help keep water from evaporating, making the technology attractive in drought-plagued areas, and restrict algae blooms. And they are more efficient than land-based panels, because water cools the panels. ...The Far Niente winery in Oakville, Calif., was an early adopter of floating solar panels, placing 994 on pontoons over an irrigation pond in 2008. Greg Allen, a winemaker at Far Niente who is a mechanical engineer by training, said the company was interested in solar power and wanted to eliminate 100 percent of their energy costs. ...another 1,302 solar panels installed on land. The system is expected to pay for itself by 2020 or sooner, Mr. Allen said. ...putting the panels on water saved vineyard space, and the floating system, combined with a solar array on land, generates up to 477 kilowatts of electricity at peak production. ...Inhabitants of the pond seem unperturbed, he added. “The fish are happy, the frogs are happy, the ducks came back,” he said. “It’s a very healthy pond.”...

2016-05-19. Seeking Pluto’s Frigid Heart.

posted by Alan Gould   [ updated ]

By The New York Times. For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt:  Set foot on [Pluto] an alien world, three billion miles from the warmth of the sun. Download the NYT VR [virtual reality] app for Android or iPhone. [Different views are seen by moving the smart phone to different viewing angles. Or use cardboard viewer for effect]...

2016-05-19. As U.S. moves to cut greenhouse emissions from farms, new study finds big global challenge.

posted by Alan Gould

By Virginia Gewin, Patrick Monahan, Science. For GSS Climate Change chapter 10. Excerpt: From cow burps to decaying food waste, agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Researchers estimate farms are responsible for about 13% of total global emissions, making it the world’s second-largest source, after energy production. And now that nations have committed to trying to hold global warming to no more than 2°C above preindustrial levels, researchers and policymakers are looking for practical ways to cut agriculture’s contribution to climate change. Two recent developments could inform that search. Last week, officials in the United States—one of the world’s largest sources of agricultural products—released a progress report on U.S. efforts to promote “climate smart” agriculture. And this week, an international research team published a study that highlights the big changes in farm technology and human behavior that will be needed to achieve the worldwide farm-related cuts necessary to stay below the 2°C threshold....

2016-05-19. Tsunamis Splashed Ancient Mars.

posted May 25, 2016, 1:13 PM by Alan Gould

By Shannon Hall, EoS-Earth & Space Science News (AGU). For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 7. Excerpt: Massive meteorites likely slammed into a Martian ocean billions of years ago, unleashing tsunami waves up to 120 meters tall, a close study of a region of the Red Planet's terrain has found....

2016-05-17. Rumbling under the Volcanoes.

posted May 25, 2016, 1:09 PM by Alan Gould

By UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory. For GSS Energy Flow chapter 2. Excerpt: First it was Mount St. Helens in Washington, now it is Mount Hood in Oregon. Recently, hundreds of small earthquakes have been detected under these two slumbering volcanoes. Is something ominous brewing in the Cascade Range this spring? Are we in for another catastrophic eruption similar to the one which obliterated a large part of Mount St. Helens exactly 36 years ago tomorrow? While no serious Earth scientist will ever rule out a surprise eruption completely, all experts dealing with volcanism in the Cascade Range do not see the recent earthquake swarms as a sign of imminent danger on either of the two fire mountains. In fact, monitoring seismicity is currently the most powerful tool in understanding the behavior of magma inside a volcanic edifice. ...Over the years, seismologists have detected many kinds of such magmatically driven earthquakes, the most common being the so-called "volcano tectonic" or VT-events. A detailed observation of such quakes can even be used to predict imminent eruptions in a reliable fashion. ...Luckily, none of the quakes in the current earthquakes swarms under the two Cascadian volcanoes were of that critical type....

2016-05-17. Humans are still evolving—and we can watch it happen.

posted May 25, 2016, 1:08 PM by Alan Gould

By Elizabeth Pennisi, Science. For GSS Losing Biodiversity chapter 4. Excerpt: Many people think evolution requires thousands or millions of years, but biologists know it can happen fast. Now, thanks to the genomic revolution, researchers can actually track the population-level genetic shifts that mark evolution in action—and they’re doing this in humans. Two studies presented at the Biology of Genomes meeting here last week show how our genomes have changed over centuries or decades, charting how since Roman times the British have evolved to be taller and fairer, and how just in the last generation the effect of a gene that favors cigarette smoking has dwindled in some groups....

2016-05-16. Aging Stars Make New Habitable Zones.

posted May 25, 2016, 1:02 PM by Alan Gould

By JoAnna Wendel, EoS-Earth & Space Science News (AGU).  For GSS A Changing Cosmos chapter 8. Excerpt: Scientists searching for life in the universe now have a new target: the once-icy worlds orbiting red giants. There’s some good news and bad news for Europa colonization enthusiasts. As our Sun gets older, brighter, and bigger over the next several billion years, it will expand into a red giant so large that its heat could melt ice on the surface of Europa and other moons of Jupiter, as well as those around Saturn. Liquid water flowing freely would not only be a boon for would-be space explorers, but it could provide a stable environment ripe for fostering life. The bad news is Earth will be burnt to a crisp. It may even get engulfed by the fiery wall of the expanding star, along with Mercury and Venus, so anyone that remains on Earth probably won’t live to see that day. For right now, however, humans who study planets orbiting other stars stand to benefit from the grim future prospects of our solar system’s innermost planets. A new model of the evolution of stellar systems’ habitable zones, based on what’s expected for our own solar system, could help observers today better evaluate which exoplanets could harbor life....

2016-05-16. Understanding Volcanic Eruptions Where Plates Meet.

posted May 25, 2016, 12:59 PM by Alan Gould

By Raffaele Azzaro and Rosanna De Rosa, EoS-Earth & Space Science News (AGU). For GSS Energy Flow chapter 2. Excerpt: A new project elucidates the relationships between tectonics and volcanic systems and how they influence hazards on Italy's Mount Etna and Vulcano and Lipari islands....

2016-05-13. Biofuels Plant in Hawaii Is First to Be Certified as Sustainable.

posted May 14, 2016, 12:09 PM by Alan Gould   [ updated May 14, 2016, 12:10 PM ]

By Diane Cardwell, the New York Times. For GSS Energy Use chapter 9. Excerpt: KEAAU, Hawaii — The trucks roll in and out of the plant at a business park nestled near papaya farms and a forest preserve on the Big Island here, an operation that transforms waste cooking oils, animal fats, fruit and seeds into biodiesel fuel, nearly 13,000 gallons a day. Owned by Pacific Biodiesel, an industry pioneer, the plant was designed with an eye toward conserving water and energy and avoiding environmental harm. But after about $20 million and four years of operation, a central question about the plant, and the industry as a whole, has persisted: Do biofuels ultimately reduce carbon emissions? “We’re worried that the efforts to ramp up our use of biofuels are actually doing a lot of damage and digging the climate hole deeper,” said Jonathan Lewis, a lawyer focused on climate change at the Clean Air Task Force. Now, the biodiesel industry’s backers say they have an answer, at least for this modest plant. The Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance, a nonprofit industry group, commissioned an audit of the plant’s sustainability by an independent company, and the result was yes. It was the first United States-based certification of sustainability granted for a biodiesel plant, according to the alliance....

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