Climate Change Weekly Roundup: 08/13/14

Publication: Washington Post

Author: Terrence McCoy

Date: August 5, 2014

Title: Scientists may have cracked the giant Siberian crater mystery — and the news isn’t good

Scientists now theorize that methane explosions within the melting permafrost created the new craters in Siberia, but this problem is not yet solved.

“Gas pressure increased until it was high enough to push away the overlaying layers in a powerful injection, forming the crater,” explained geochemist Hans-Wolfgang Hubberten of Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute to the Washington Post, adding that he’s never seen anything like the crater.

The release of methane in the process of the permafrost thaw can increase the rate of global warming, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Pound for pound, the comparative impact of [methane gas] on climate change is over 20 times greater than [carbon dioxide] over a 100-year period,” reported the EPA.

As the Associated Press put it in 2010, the melting of Siberia’s permafrost is “a climate time bomb waiting to explode if released into the atmosphere.

To continue reading about the Siberian craters, visit here.


Publication: The Guardian

Author: Ian Sample

Date: 08/06/14

Title: Rosetta spacecraft makes historic rendezvous with rubber-duck comet 67P/CG

The Rosetta spacecraft, a European Space Agency project with a price tag of 1 billion euros, made history this week as it came within 62 miles of a comet.

After more than ten years and 6.4 billion kilometers, Rosetta reached its destination – a comet named 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko – and began its analysis of the giant mass of ice and dust. The comet turned out to be a contact binary, meaning it formed from the fusion of two smaller rocks, and looked eerily similar to a rubber duck in the photos taken of it by Rosetta.

The comet was traveling at 55,000km per hour in a 6.5 year elliptical orbit that passes by Earth, Mars and Jupiter. In order to reach the comet, Rosetta performed a series of 10 burns, or maneuvers that allow the spacecraft to adjust its speed and direction.

NASA officials are now looking for a safe spot on the surface of the comet for Philae, a smaller surface rover that is accompanying Rosetta, to land on and begin exploration. Philae is scheduled to land on the comet sometime in November, 2014.Together, Philae and Rosetta will allow scientists unprecedented access to information regarding the composition, nucleus and the changing nature of comets as they become more active and develop their iconic tails of dust of ice.


Publication: NBC News


Date of Publication: 08/12/14

Title: Massive ‘Red Tide’ Threatens Florida Beaches

Karenia Brevis is a microscopic alga that can be found around coastal Florida waters. Aside from being a delightful shade of red, the alga is also toxic, containing a poison that causes respiratory failure in other organisms.

Florida experiences spikes, called the red tide or red tide blooms, in the population of these algae every year, but this year’s bloom is already proving to be the largest and worst in almost a decade.

The algae bloom is currently 60 miles wide, 90 miles long and estimated to be about 100 feet deep. Beach goers have not yet felt the impact of the red tide yet, as the bloom is still 20 miles off the southwest coast of Florida. Noxious gas from the algae causes coughing, wheezing and other breathing issues, and can send those with emphysema or asthma to the hospital.

More prominent, however, is the effect these microscopic organisms have on wildlife and, especially, endangered species. Between January and May of 2013, 276 manatees died from the toxic algae. And in 2004, the algae caused around 100 dolphin deaths.

The algae represent a lasting problem for ecosystems, as the toxins within them coat sea grasses on the ocean floor and poison more animals for months after the bloom ends.

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Publication: Science News

Author: Andrew Grant

Date of Publication: 08/13/14

Title: Ups and downs in the quest for clean air

Air quality in the U.S. has steadily improved over the last decade while the opposite is true for much of Asia, Africa and the Middle East, according to NASA satellite measurements.

Nitrogen dioxide, or NO2, is a yellow-brown gas that comes from vehicle and coal power plant emissions. The gas is a pollutant and joins with other chemicals to form one of the main compounds found in smog. NO2 can also cause respiratory problems.

Using air quality data from NASA’s Aura satellite, researchers have created maps that detail which regions across the globe experienced nitrogen dioxide increases and decreases over the past 10 years.

Cities in the U.S., Western Europe and Japan showed the greatest improvements. Los Angeles, Tokyo and London had a 52 percent, 36 percent and 25 percent decreases respectively. On the other end of the spectrum are cities in industrializing countries. In New Delhi, the air pollution increases clocked in at 72 percent. And in Bangladesh, the city of Dhaka increased NO2 emissions by 212 percent.

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Publication: The Guardian

Author: Stephen Leahy

Date of Publication: 08/13/14

Title: Fracking’s impact on wildlife remains unknown, study finds

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a process in which a mixture of water, sand and chemicals is shot at high pressure deep beneath the Earth’s surface to break up shale deposits and release natural gas reservoirs trapped inside them. This natural gas is then collected and used to generate useful forms of energy for people.

And while it is largely known that fracking contributes to the contamination of ground and surface water, little is known about its further environmental impacts, according to a study recently published in journal Frontiers of Ecology and the Environment.

The reason for this lack of knowledge is that few, if any, researchers are conducting baseline studies of fracking sites before fracking begins, which can then be used later to determine the amount of stress fracking puts on local ecosystems, according to Sara Souther, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin.

Adding to the problem, state and federal agencies often don’t require fracking operations to report minor spills. Fracking is also exempt from the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act, so there is little regulation on what kinds of chemicals energy companies can pump into shale gas wells.


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