Biofuel From Switchgrass

Corn is problematic as a biofuel source material. It’s resource-intensive to grow, creates many environmental impacts, and is more useful as food.

A study from Colorado State University finds new promise for biofuels produced from switchgrass, a non-edible native grass that grows in many parts of North America. Scientists used modeling to simulate various growing scenarios, and found a climate footprint ranging from -11 to 10 grams of carbon dioxide per mega-joule — the standard way of measuring greenhouse gas emissions.

To compare with other fuels, the impact of using gasoline results in 94 grams of carbon dioxide per mega-joule.

The study, “High resolution techno-ecological modeling of a bioenergy landscape to identify climate mitigation opportunities in cellulosic ethanol production,” was published online Feb. 19 in Nature Energy.

Source: How biofuels from plant fibers could combat global warming

Norway to strengthen Svalbard seed vault

The update at Svalbard, an archipelago near the Arctic Circle, would cover “construction of a new, concrete-built access tunnel, as well as a service building to house emergency power and refrigerating units and other electrical equipment,” according to a statement from Norway’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food,

The new work comes after a thaw of permafrost in 2016 caused some water to flow into the vault’s entrance. No seeds were damaged, but the Norwegian government decided the store, designed to withstand nuclear war and earthquakes, needed an upgrade in case global warming intensified.

Source: Global warming prompts Norway to strengthen its doomsday seed vault

Soil pathogen testing

“It’s a really versatile method,” he said. “You could use it for nationwide pathogen mapping or look at the distribution of pathogens around the country. We started small, but this could have huge implications for testing soil health and disease.”

Tanaka said it was important for this discovery to be available in an open-access video journal.

“We’re always concerned about helping every grower and the industry as a whole,” Tanaka said. “We want everybody to look at this and use it, if they think they’ll benefit from it.”

Source: Crop-saving soil tests now at farmers’ fingertips

Threats to US West Coast Estuaries and Wetlands

Earthquakes aren’t the only concern on the Pacific Coast. Though sea level rise is most often paired with Miami’s future, thousands of miles away, tidal wetlands along the West coast are vulnerable to sea level rise too, particularly in California and Oregon. Focusing on 14 estuaries on the West Coast, a new study published Wednesday in Science Advances localizes the future destruction due to sea level rise.

“We felt like sea level rise concerns on the Pacific Coast have largely been missing in the literature beyond local work done in California and a few places,” Karen Thorne, lead author and principal investigator at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Western Ecological Research Center, told Newsweek. The West coast has specific conditions that require a closer look at how the wetlands are affected—including California’s highly urbanized coastlines to the Pacific Northwest’s steep, rocky terrain. “All of our wetlands are constrained into these small pockets of estuaries,” Thorne said.

Source: U.S. Pacific coastal wetland resilience and vulnerability to sea-level rise

Climate change pushing European cities 

But even the most optimistic case showed 85% of UK cities with a river, including London, would face increased flooding.

In the high-impact scenario, some cities and towns in the UK and Ireland could see the amount of water per flood as much as double. The worst affected is Cork, which could see 115% more water per flooding, while Wrexham, Carlisle, Glasgow, and Chester could all see increases of more than 75%.

The increase in severity in the predicted impact has come after the team, in a first of its kind, examined all three climate hazards together in the largest study of its kind ever undertaken.

Source: Climate change ‘will push European cities towards breaking point’

Mercury pollution increasing due to global warming

While the amount might sound alarming, it’s worth a reminder that there are about 326 million cubic miles of water. To put that roughly, if all the world’s ocean water was a basketball, 150 million gallons would be about the size of a head of a pin.

The real danger, though, is what that amount of mercury could do to the food chain. Salmon would be immediately affected, and would quickly carry toxic (if not immediately lethal) amounts of mercury. Any increase in mercury intake would carry with it sharply increased risks of certain types of cancers.

Source: Mercury making its way into global drinking water thanks to global warming

“We Are Not Prepared for Today’s Climate”

Published in the journal Science Advances this week, the study found that the likelihood of extreme heat, dryness and precipitation will increase across as much of 90% of North America, Europe and East Asia if countries do not accelerate their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are not prepared for today’s climate, let alone for another degree of global warming,” says study author Noah Diffenbaugh, a Stanford University professor of earth system science.

The 2015 Paris Agreement, which President Donald Trump has promised to exit when the U.S. is eligible to do so, aims to keep temperature rise below 3.6°Fahrenheit by 2100 with an ideal target of 2.7° Fahrenheit. Though the differences seem minor, the study shows the difference between those targets would lead to dramatic increases in the likelihood of record warm or wet days, according to the study.

Source: Scientists Issued a Grim New Warning on Climate Change

Projecting climate change impacts 

MIPs, which use detailed climate and impact models to assess environmental and economic effects of different climate-change scenarios, require international coordination among multiple research groups, and use a rigid modeling structure with a fixed set of climate-change scenarios. This highly dispersed, inflexible modeling approach makes it difficult to produce consistent and timely climate impact assessments under changing economic and environmental policies. In addition, MIPs focus on a single economic sector at a time and do not represent feedbacks among sectors, thus degrading their ability to produce accurate projections of climate impacts and meaningful comparisons of those impacts across multiple sectors.

To overcome these drawbacks, researchers at the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change propose an alternative method that only a handful of other groups are now pursuing: a self-consistent modeling framework to assess climate impacts across multiple regions and sectors. They describe the Joint Program’s implementation of this method and provide illustrative examples in a new study published in Nature Communications.

Source: Projecting the impacts of climate change

Largest database of cities illuminates increasing urbanization

The world’s largest data platform on cities, launched by the Joint Research Centre, the European Commission’s science and knowledge service, reveals the planet is even more urbanized than we thought.

With every high density area of at least 50,000 inhabitants covered, the city centres database shows growth in population and built-up areas over the past 40 years. Environmental factors tracked include:

  • ‘Greenness’: the estimated amount of healthy vegetation in the city centre
  • Soil sealing: the covering of the soil surface with materials like concrete and stone, as a result of new buildings, roads and other public and private spaces
  • Air pollution: the level of polluting particles such as PM2.5 in the air
    Vicinity to protected areas: the percentage of natural protected space within 30 km distance from the city centre’s border
  • Disaster risk-related exposure of population and buildings in low lying areas and on steep slopes.

The data is free to access and open to everyone. It applies big data analytics and a global, people-based definition of cities, providing support to monitor global urbanisation and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Source: World’s biggest city database shines light on our increasingly urbanized planet

Arid cities will suffer more severe heat waves 

By 2100, arid cities like Phoenix will become hotbeds for heatwaves compared to their rural surroundings, while cities on the eastern seaboard will be less severely affected by heatwaves compared to theirs. The findings highlight the importance of heat-mitigation strategies and infrastructures such as green roofs.

In terms of relative temperature increase, today’s eastern and southeastern cities are more severely affected by heat waves than arid and semiarid western cities. This is because of the amount of impenetrable, concrete surfaces and lack of moisture in eastern and southeastern cities compared to their rural surroundings. In contrast, both rural and urban dry environments experience similar temperature increases, and both have less annual rainfall than their eastern and southeastern counterparts.

However, by 2100, this is expected to flip. Arid cities like Phoenix will become hotbeds for heatwaves compared to their rural surroundings, while cities on the eastern seaboard will be less severely affected by heatwaves compared to theirs. This is because future arid cities will remain water-limited due to the lack of permeable surfaces in cities, while their rural neighbors are projected to be no longer “dry” due to higher rainfall. The overuse of air conditioners also emits heat into the urban heat islands, playing a significant role.

The findings are tied to urban-rural development. A city’s water availability, through rainfall or irrigation, dictates its evaporative cooling effects on temperature, which reduces the severity of a heat wave. In other words, cities with more moisture will cool more quickly.

Source: By 2100, arid cities will suffer from more severe heat waves than temperate cities