Category: Environment

No seismic blasting off East Coast — for now

Obama denies six fossil fuel exploration permits

dolphins Deepwater Horizon spill
The Obama administration has blocked the use of seismic blasting along the Atlantic Coast, helping to protect marine mammals and other ocean animals from harmful noise pollution. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Ocean animals along the Atlantic coast of the U.S. will remain safe from excessive noise pollution at least for the foreseeable future, as President Obama last week moved to deny six permit applications for oil and gas exploration from Florida to Delaware — including requests to use intrusive seismic blasting.

The administration had previously blocked leasing in the area through 2022. The latest decision was greeted with relief by conservation advocates. Obama also recently permanently withdrew 31 canyons in the Atlantic from future oil and gas leasing. Continue reading “No seismic blasting off East Coast — for now”

Droughts and fires affecting Western U.S. air quality

New study tracks increase in summertime haze in Colorado wilderness

Summit County firefighters extinguish a small wildfire between Keystone and Montezuma late March, 2012.
Summit County, Colorado, firefighters extinguish a small wildfire between Keystone and Montezuma late March, 2012. A new University of Utah study suggests that more drought and wildfires will worsen air pollution in the high country of the West, even spreading to pristine wilderness areas. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Longer and hotter droughts and wildfires are polluting the once clear blue skies of the high country in the West, according to new research from the University of Utah.

The study, published this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found a link between the severity of drought in the Intermountain West and summertime air quality. Climate projections suggest that drought and wildfire risk will continue to increase in coming decades.

“If you take that into the future, we’re going to see significant hazing of the West,” said University of Utah atmospheric scientist Gannet Hallar. Continue reading “Droughts and fires affecting Western U.S. air quality”

Study IDs key humpback whale habitats near Madagascar

A humpback whale near Hawaii. Photo courtesy NOAA.
A humpback whale near Hawaii. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Increase in offshore energy development spurs conservation concerns

Staff Report

Humpback whales have always congregated in near-shore breeding areas, which makes them more susceptible to pressures from land-based and near-shore human activity, and the populations in the southwestern Indian Ocean are no exception. Scientists tracking the great cetaceans off the east coast of Africa say there are several areas near Madagascar that need protection from expanding offshore energy exploration.

After tagging several whales and tracing their movements via satellite, the scientists said their data can define potentially sensitive areas that should be protected from the disruption of seismic testing or other industrial development that could be destructive to the humpback population and this globally important marine habitat. Continue reading “Study IDs key humpback whale habitats near Madagascar”

Study finds 1,000-square-mile contamination footprint from 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster

Satellite view deepwater horizon oil spill
Oil from BP’s failed Deepwater Horizon drilling operation slicks across the Gulf of Mexico in this 201 photo from NASA.

New data help show how long impacts will linger on seafloor, where pollutants get into the foodchain

Staff Report

Fall-out from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster contaminated more 1,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico’s seafloor, but the exact long-term ecological effects are still unknown, said a group of scientists who are tracking 125 major petroleum hydrocarbons settled to the deep ocean floor when the failed Macondo well discharged 160 million gallons of crude oil into the water.

Their new paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, outlines the effort to determine how fast each of those compounds will biodegrade. The data came from a federal Natural Resource Damage Assessment of the catastrophic oil spill. Continue reading “Study finds 1,000-square-mile contamination footprint from 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster”

Wildlife: Jackals spreading into central Europe

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A golden jackal photographed in the Czech Republic. Photo courtesy Klára Pyšková.

Changing climate, shifting species

Staff Report

Climate change and other impacts from human activities are enabling jackals to spread into parts of Europe, scientists said after documenting the first living golden jackal in the Czech Republic. The mammal, native to northern Africa and southern Eurasia, was photographed by motion sensors cameras several times just 40 kilometers from Prague, according to a new study published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

“The habitat, where the golden jackal decided to settle, resembles the landscapes which these animals prefer in their natural distribution area, the Balkans – an open grass-shrubland surrounded by a forest. It is one of the warmest areas in the country, with mild winters.The observed animal was mostly active at dusk and dawn, with majority of the sightings occurring in the morning hours,” said researcher Klára Pyšková, who co-authored the paper with  a group of researchers from Charles University and Institute of Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences, among them her supervisors Ivan Horáček and David Storch. Continue reading “Wildlife: Jackals spreading into central Europe”

Draft plan for jaguar recovery panned by wildlife advocates

Photo courtesy Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.
Photo courtesy Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Jaguars listed as endangered since 1997

Staff Report

Jaguars making their from Mexico back to the southwestern U.S. apparently won’t be getting much help from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency this week released a draft recovery plan that puts the conservation burden on Mexico. The plan’s criteria for recovery and removal of the jaguar from the “endangered” list could be met without any jaguars occupying any of their vast historic range in the United States, according to wildlife watchdogs with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The draft was released just a short time after a second jaguar was documented in the Southwest. Between 2011 and 2015, another jaguar was seen several times around the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson. Another jaguar called “Macho B” was photographed repeatedly from 1996 until he was killed by the Arizona Department of Game and Fish as a result of a botched capture operation in 2009.

“Jaguars are making their presence known in the southwestern United States so it’s disappointing to see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put the focus of jaguar recovery solely in Mexico,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “By excluding the best remaining unoccupied jaguar habitat, this plan aims too low to make a difference in saving the jaguar. It’s an extinction plan, not a recovery plan.” Continue reading “Draft plan for jaguar recovery panned by wildlife advocates”

Warm ocean melting East Antarctic ice from beneath

Time to re-adjust sea level rise estimates

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Time to make some new estimates for sea level rise. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

New measurements taken in the ocean near a massive East Antarctica ice sheet confirm that warm water is melting the ice from below. The new data will help scientists determine how fast the Totten Ice Shelf will melt. In all, it contains enough water to raise global sea level by 3.5 meters, according to a new study published last week in Science Advances.

Previous studies have suggested that  Antarctic ice shelvesare thinning because of warming ocean temperatures. The fastest melting, as well as an acceleration of glaciers, has been reported from the  Bellingshausen Sea and the Amundsen Sea, where much of the ice sheet rests on bedrock below sea level that deepens upstream. Continue reading “Warm ocean melting East Antarctic ice from beneath”