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Climate: Tracking the urban heat island effect

city heat

Global warming impacts are magnified in cities.

‘Convective efficiency’ the key factor in city temperatures

Staff Report

FRISCO — Many cities, including Denver, have identified extreme heat as one of the most immediate challenges of global warming, primarily because the urban heat island effect will cause temperatures in urban areas to spike well above readings in the surrounding countryside.

Now, a Yale-led study pinpoints the primary causes of the heat island effect, showing that cities in humid climates face the biggest problems. Along with direct risks like heat stroke, increasing temperatures in cities will also worsen air pollution problems. Continue reading

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Morning photo: desert dreams

Four Corners sojourn

You don't see this every day!

You don’t see this every day!

FRISCO — In today’s first post I reported on the ongoing environmental studies for operation of the Four Corners power plant, a giant coal-burning facility that has been spewing air pollution into the atmosphere for decades. Federal officials now propose re-authorizing the plant’s permits for another 25 years without accounting for the environmental toll of greenhouse gases and other pollutants that are directly toxic to people and animals. Obviously, we can’t simply shut down all our coal-burning activities immediately. But at some point, the federal government has to start taking significant steps toward reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases. The permitting process for the Four Corners plant offers a great opportunity to at least start down that path. Meanwhile, enjoy this set of Four Corners images from the Summit Voice archives, and check out our online gallery at Fine Art America for a great selection of Rocky Mountain nature and landscape images. Buying prints or greeting cards from the gallery is one of the best ways to support independent environmental journalism! Continue reading

Environmental groups challenge continued operation of giant Four Corners coal-burning power plant

The Four Corners Power Plant in a 1972 photo via Wikipedia.

The Four Corners Power Plant in a 1972 photo via Wikipedia.

Global warming impacts, health of Native American communities at issue in new federal study

Staff Report

FRISCO — President Obama may be all about tackling global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions these days, but that message hasn’t trickled to to various government agencies, including the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which last week released a draft environmental study on continued operation of the Four Corners Power Plant and Navajo Mine Energy Project.

The giant coal-burning facility is one of the biggest sources of heat-trapping greenhouse gases and other toxic air pollutants in the country, yet the draft study, which would permit continued operation for another 25 years, appears to ignore any option besides business-as-usual, according to environmental groups, who say they will challenge the federal government because it failed to look at impacts on climate and to wildlife and people. Continue reading

Roundup: No fish-eating spiders, this week

Independent journalism: Climate, penguins and uranium mining

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Staff Report

FRISCO — I didn’t quite get around to reporting on the discovery of new fish-eating spider species last week, but I did cover a lot of environmental territory.

Along with climate stories in Summit Voice I wrote about the emerald ash borer invasion and hydropower for Boulderganic, and even penned a food- and environmental themed Colorado roadtrip story for the Boulder Weekly.

On a more serious note, I was the first journalist to take a close look at the City of Denver’s as-yet unpublished climate change adaptation plan, showing that life in the Mile High City could be nearly unbearable by 2050 — but also showing that making adjustments for global warming could have huge benefits for Denver by expanding green infrastructure. Read the Colorado Independent story here: The Big Schvitz. Continue reading

Environment: Northeast lakes rebound from acid rain

Air quality regs pay off, as New England lakes and streams bounce back from acid rain.

Air quality regs pay off, as New England lakes and streams bounce back from acid rain.

It’s simple: Cleaning the air improves water quality

Staff Report

FRISCO — Acid rain, once the scourge of freshwater ecosystems in the eastern U.S., is waning, and the health of New England lakes and streams is improving, scientists said this week after documenting declines in sulfate concentrations in snow and rain.

The data gathered by scientists working under the auspices of the NH Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of New Hampshire College of Life Sciences and Agriculture, show that sulfate concentration in rain and snow declined by more than 40 percent in the 2000s. Sulfate concentration in lakes declined at a greater rate from 2002 to 2010 than during the 1980s or 1990s. During the 2000s, nitrate concentration in rain and snow declined by more than 50 percent and nitrate concentration declined in lakes. Continue reading

Environment: Jet pollution widespread around LAX

Twilight above Boston from a Jet Blue airliner.

Passenger jets are huge source of air pollution around busy airports, a new study finds.

Dangerous ultrafine particles measured up to 10 miles away from runways

Staff Report

FRISCO —Adverse health effects from jet planes extend much farther from airports than previously thought, according to health researchers with the University of Southern California who carefully measured air pollution around Los Angeles International Airport. The study found that LAX “should be considered one of the most important sources of PN in Los Angeles.”

Their study, published the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology journal, shows that pollution from heavy airplane traffic can affect people as far as 10 miles from busy airports. Most previous studies had only sampled air quality within a couple of miles of airports, finding higher levels of pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides and small (ultrafine) particles less than 0.1 micron (about one-thousandth of the width of a human hair), that scientists attributed to airplane emissions. Continue reading

Study: Unchecked methane emissions from fossil fuel exploitation may push Earth past the climate tipping point

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FrackNation … but for how long?

Is natural gas really the lesser of two evils?

Staff Report

FRISCO — As frackers desperately try to pump every last bit of gas from the ground before the global warming clock runs out, scientists warn that methane emissions could push Earth over a climate tipping point in just a few years.

“We have to control methane immediately, and natural gas is the largest methane pollution source in the United States,” said Robert Howarth, greenhouse gas expert and ecology and environmental biology professor at Cornell University. “If we hit a climate-system tipping point because of methane, our carbon dioxide problem is immaterial. We have to get a handle on methane, or increasingly risk global catastrophe.” Continue reading

Environmental groups ask EPA to set national limits on pollution from oil and gas production

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Oil and gas drilling roads and pads are spreading into remote backcountry areas of Colorado. bberwyn photo.

Cancer-causing chemicals escaping from fossil fuel facilities by the ton

Staff Report

FRISCO — Colorado communities looking to regulate the toxic and dangerous impacts of oil and gas drilling may not get any help from Gov. John Hickenlooper, but they may get some backup from a huge coalition of environmental groups that have petitioned the EPA for limits on oil and gas wells and associated equipment in population centers around the U.S.

As thousands of new wells are drilled across the U.S. every day, some studies suggest that at least 100,000 tons per year of hazardous air pollution from oil and gas well sites — including benzene, formaldehyde, and naphthalene — are escaping into the atmosphere. These pollutants have been linked to respiratory and neurological problems, birth defects, and cancer. Continue reading

Environment: Deepwater Horizon blowout may have released 250,000 tons of natural gas into the atmosphere

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The massive Deepwater Horizon oll spill spreads a sheen across a huge section of the Gulf of Mexico in May 2010. Photo courtesy NASA.

Findings show value of long-term post-spill monitoring

Staff Report

FRISCO — Methane-munching microbes in the Gulf of Mexico may have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of gas released during the 84-day Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in 2010.

“Most of the gas injected into the Gulf was methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change, so we were naturally concerned that this potent greenhouse gas could escape into the atmosphere,” said University of Georgia researcher Samantha Joye.” Many assumed that methane-oxidizing microbes would simply consume the methane efficiently, but our data suggests that this isn’t what happened.” Continue reading

Will ozone pollution spike with global warming?

A computer-generated split-screen image a split-image simulates the average 20 percent best (left) and 20 percent worst 20 percent (right) visibility at the Long’s Peak vista based on an average of monitored data for years 2000-2004.

A computer-generated split-screen image a split-image simulates the average 20 percent best (left) and 20 percent worst 20 percent (right) visibility at the Long’s Peak vista based on an average of monitored data for years 2000-2004.

Very likely without cuts in pollutants, study says

Staff Report

FRISCO — By 2050, many Americans will see their chances of experiencing unhealthy summertime ozone levels increase by 70 percent, according to scientists with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Warmer temperatures will make the toxic brew of air pollutants even more volatile unless emissions of specific pollutants that are associated with the formation of ozone are sharply cut, the researchers said in a new study published this week.

Almost all of the continental United States will experience at least a few days with unhealthy air during the summers, the research shows. Heavily polluted locations in parts of the East, Midwest, and West Coast where ozone already frequently exceeds recommended levels could face unhealthy air during most of the summer. Continue reading

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