Europe needs to balance renewable energy development

More windpower needed in southern Europe

More windpower is needed in central and eastern Europe to balance the grid. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

The best renewable energy strategy for Europe would include coordinated planning for development of wind power. Currently, many countries are pursuing unilateral national strategies that neglect the benefits of regional planning. Continue reading “Europe needs to balance renewable energy development”

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Sunday set: Out in the fields

Nature respite

There’s a perception that Austria is a densely populated country, especially if your main impression comes from visiting tourist centers like Vienna or Salzburg. But in reality, the country ranks about in the middle of EU countries in terms of density, at 97 people per square kilometer. That’s a little higher than Greece (81) but lower than, for example, Italy (192). That means there are some wide open spaces outside the population centers, including the sparsely populated Waldviertel region, north and west of Vienna, extending toward the border with Czechia. We captured a few landscape images in the region during a visit to the famed poppy fields, highlighted in last week’s photo essay.

Mercury pollution worsens in remote Arctic realms

A USGS study will try to determine how global warming will affect polar bear populations.

Coal power plants still to blame for emitting most of the toxic mercury pollution

Staff Report

Mercury continues to build up in Arctic ecosystems at levels that threaten the health and well-being of people, wildlife and waterways in the region.

A new study that looks at the sources of the toxic metal shows that airborne mercury is gathering in the Arctic tundra, where it gets deposited in the soil and ultimately runs off into waters. Scientists have long reported high levels of mercury pollution in the Arctic. The new research identifies gaseous mercury as its major source and sheds light on how the element gets there. Continue reading “Mercury pollution worsens in remote Arctic realms”

Global warming will devastate marginal farming areas

Southwest will be hit especially hard

Climate scientists have a pretty good understanding of how global warming will affect agriculture in different parts of the world. Is anybody listening? @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Most agriculture in the southwestern U.S. is already marginal, possible only because U.S. taxpayers support cheap water for questionable crops. And because of global warming, the outlook is grim as the region continues to warm and dry.

By 2050, Arizona cotton production will drop to less than 10 percent of the crop yield under optimal irrigation conditions, a new MIT study projects. Similarly, maize grown in Utah, now only yielding 40 percent of the optimal expected yield, will decrease to 10 percent with further climate-driven water deficits. Continue reading “Global warming will devastate marginal farming areas”

Climate extremes have big effect on wheat yields

New index helps project changes

Grain crops are very vulnerable to climate change impacts. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Farmers have known it for generations that heatwaves, drought and extreme rain are a bad recipe for growing wheat, and now scientists have quantified those impacts. Heat stress, combined with drought or excessive rain is responsible for about 40 percent of the changes in wheat yields from one year to another.

That’s bad news in a world that’s expecting extreme weather to intensify in the coming decades, but at least the stress index developed scientists with the European Joint Research Centre will help communities plan ahead and ameliorate at least some climate change impacts. Continue reading “Climate extremes have big effect on wheat yields”

Sunday set: Poppy fields

Delightful blooms

For a few weeks each summer, usually in early to mid-July, farm fields in Lower Austria come alive with the poppy bloom. The flowers are planted for their tiny black seeds that are a popular ingredient for a wide variety of baked products in this region of the world. Sometimes they’re simply sprinkled atop braided rolls, but they really shine when they’re ground and mixed into a sweetened paste to fill pastries. The fields in this set are all near the small town of Ottenschlag, and it’s well worth visiting if you happen to be near Vienna this time of year.

Increased greening amplifies global warming in boreal zones


New research focuses on biophysical impacts of climate change

Greenhouse gases speed plant growth. How will that affect global temperatures? @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Vegetation plays a key role in the climate change equation, with a recent study showing that vegetation density has substantial climate impacts. According to the research by the European Union’s Joint Research Center, the findings show that vegetation has a warming effect in cold areas and cooling effect in warm areas.

Figuring out the net effect would help develop more integrated and effective climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. The puzzle is complex. Increasing greenhouse gases spur vegetation growth, but the overall effects at the global level are not clear. The new study explores how changes in leaf area (a measure of vegetation density) affect local climate. Continue reading “Increased greening amplifies global warming in boreal zones”