We live in a litigious society. Engineering and environmental geologists are no strangers to the legal system. They frequently deal with issues relating to geologic hazards such as active faults and unstable ground, the release of contaminants into the environment and numerous other circumstances. But for the most part, geoscientists tend to avoid legal battles. Is that changing?
The U.S. and much of the Western world have a dirty secret.
While we claim to be working diligently to decrease our emissions and switch to cleaner, non-fossil fuel energies, we are actually just exporting emissions to other countries, most notably China. We don’t talk about it. We get on our soapboxes at international meetings and claim to be making great progress to halt ever-increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere. And we complain vociferously about developing countries — again, most notably China — not doing the same.
When measured in terms of annual Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, the United States is the richest country in the world, followed at a distance by China and Japan, and then several European countries, including Germany, France and the United Kingdom. The GDP — the value of all final goods and services produced in a country during a given year — is a simple computation that allows a direct comparison of wealth between countries.
Humans have harnessed wind energy throughout history for milling, pumping and transportation — in a way you could say it’s the “original” form of industrial energy. But only recently have we built massive, powerful turbines to convert that wind into electricity. As concerns about pollution, carbon emissions, resource depletion and energy security mount, wind farms are an increasingly attractive alternative for meeting growing energy demand.
If you’re a frequent flyer, the script of plane travel is probably so familiar you may mumble it along with the flight attendant: “Please raise your tray tables and return your seatbacks to their full upright position. We’re beginning our descent.” The sounds of that descent are probably just as familiar: The whir of landing gear descending, the loud drone of engine power rising and falling as the plane makes a series of stair-step descents to lower and lower altitudes before landing on the runway.
Each year, millions of visitors flock to Virginia’s natural wonders, such as Shenandoah National Park, and to historical landmarks, like Jamestown, one of America’s earliest colonies. But a new report by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) states that many of Virginia’s landmarks are jeopardized by climate change.
Government research and development has its limits: Time, money and bureaucracy can all hamper the timely progress of research. As a result, many federal agencies are looking to private companies to help drive new innovation and keep costs down — but it’s never that simple. Two current hot-button topics — returning humans to space and geoengineering — highlight a range of issues related to how private and public investment in science can coexist. Last month, we looked at NASA’s push toward privatization.
Most studies indicate that sea levels will rise over the next century due to melting glaciers, more ice breaking off the Antarctic ice sheet and thermal expansion — and there is great variation in how much scientists estimate seas will rise. But that’s not even the most important question, according to a new study. Instead, researchers should be looking at relative sea-level rise — how much rising seas will affect individual regions. And when you break it down by region, the study suggests, the outlook isn’t promising.
Move over, James Cameron. Researchers have created the first 3-D subsurface pictures of Mars’ northern icecap — and they’re using these images to solve a 40-year-old Martian puzzle.
The puzzle centered around Chasma Boreale, an ice canyon in the northern icecap that is comparable in size to the Grand Canyon, and the spiral troughs that extend in a pinwheel-fashion from the icecap’s center. How each of these features formed has long mystified researchers.
SAN FRANCISCO: In November, hackers broke into the e-mail server of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit and stole thousands of e-mails dating back to 1996 written by and to climate scientists. The e-mails, which were then leaked to the public, contained the typical stuff of science (and of e-mails, for that matter): amid discussions of data and theory, there was debate, confusion, flippancy, dark humor and questioning.
In U.S. policy, the past year was dominated by discussions of energy and climate change issues, at least in the earth sciences realm. In the first year of his administration, President Barack Obama focused on his top campaign priorities — but between discussions of healthcare reform, trying to rejuvenate the economy and setting up his cabinet, he still found time to discuss the sciences.
As leaves change color every fall, the North American landscape transforms from a rolling verdure to a collage of vibrant yellows, oranges and reds. The autumn foliage in Europe, however, is rather bland, composed of mostly yellow leaves with red-leafed trees few and far between. Why this is the case has remained a mystery for years. But discovering why Europe’s leaves don’t turn red is only half of the battle; determining why the trees’ leaves turn yellow in the first place is the other.
Predicting the weather has been central to human civilization since the Babylonians started studying cloud patterns in 650 B.C. The key to weather predictions is making correct assumptions. Today, instruments like Doppler radar that measure rainfall work under the assumption that raindrops fall at their terminal velocity. A new study, however, shows that some raindrops fall faster than they should, indicating rainfall instruments — and by extension, weather forecasts — may need some tweaking.
On a remote patch of rolling plain in western North Dakota lies a massive labyrinth of buildings, tanks, towers, pipes and conveyors. This industrial behemoth — the Great Plains Synfuels Plant — is designed to turn the vast deposits of lignite coal that lie in the ground into substitute natural gas.
Earth Day is over. But you don’t have to wait until next year to celebrate the planet. Disney’s new movie “Earth,” which opened Apr. 22, offers some spectacular views of the planet and its inhabitants.
The argument over whether ocean iron fertilization is a good way to sequester carbon dioxide may be coming to an end. Last month, a group of researchers seeded 300 square kilometers of the southwestern Atlantic Ocean with six metric tons of dissolved iron. Just as researchers hoped, algae bloomed, doubling in biomass within the first two weeks of the fertilization. But then, an unexpected guest showed up: tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that dined on the algae.
In FRONTLINE's urgent, ambitious new special "Heat," producer and reporter Martin Smith takes on a sweeping canvas of climate change, journeying from the disappearing glaciers of the Himalayas to the cement factories of India to the coal mines of the United States. There's a revealing look into the U.S.' role in the climate change conference in Bali last December, as well as into the plans of China's largest car company.
There are no miracle cures, it would seem. Nitrogen trifluoride is a colorless, nontoxic gas that has helped make the semiconductor industry greener by replacing a well-known greenhouse gas threat. But nitrogen trifluoride is a powerful greenhouse gas in its own right, with a potential impact on climate 17,000 times greater than carbon dioxide — and it is currently unregulated.