A lake in Florida suing to protect itself

Read the full story in the New Yorker. The Hill covered the lawsuit last spring.

Lake Mary Jane, in central Florida, could be harmed by development. A first-of-its-kind lawsuit asks whether nature should have legal rights.

USDA report shows a decade of conservation trends

A new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report shows use of no-till, crop rotations, more efficient irrigation methods and advanced technologies have climbed in recent years.

The report from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) demonstrates progress made through voluntary conservation over a 10-year period. Findings from the report will inform future conservation strategies, including USDA’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis.

The report Conservation Practices on Cultivated Cropland: A Comparison of CEAP I and CEAP II Survey Data and Modeling was developed by USDA’s Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP). It found significant gains for soil health and soil carbon storage, while also identifying areas where additional and targeted nutrient management strategies are needed.

“This latest CEAP report shows that farmers have done an outstanding job over the years in using innovative conservation strategies that help mitigate climate change,” said Eric Allness, NRCS Acting State Conservationist in Wisconsin, “But we have more work to do. Reports like this one help us better understand conservation approaches and make improvements to increase positive impacts. This report will help steer our conservation efforts well into the future to help us adapt to changing trends in production, climate and technology.”

Key findings include:

  • Farmers increasingly adopted advanced technology, including enhanced-efficiency fertilizers and variable rate fertilization to improve efficiency, assist agricultural economies and benefit the environment.
  • More efficient conservation tillage systems, particularly no-till, became the dominant form of tillage, improving soil health and reducing fuel use.
  • Use of structural practices increased, largely in combination with conservation tillage as farmers increasingly integrated conservation treatments to gain efficiencies. Structural practices include terraces, filter and buffer strips, grassed waterways and field borders.
  • Irrigation expanded in more humid areas, and as irrigators shifted to more efficient systems and improved water management strategies, per-acre water application rates decreased by 19% and withdrawals by 7 million-acre-feet.
  • Nearly 70% of cultivated cropland had conservation crop rotations, and 28% had high-biomass conservation crop rotations.

Because of this increased conservation, the report estimates:

  • Average annual water (sheet and rill) and wind erosion dropped by 70 million and 94 million tons, respectively, and edge-of-field sediment loss declined by 74 million tons.
  • Nearly 26 million additional acres of cultivated cropland were gaining soil carbon, and carbon gains on all cultivated cropland increased by over 8.8 million tons per year.
  • Nitrogen and phosphorus losses through surface runoff declined by 3% and 6%, respectively.
  • Average annual fuel use dropped by 110 million gallons of diesel fuel equivalents, avoiding associated greenhouse gas emissions of nearly 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents.

About the Report

For this report, farmer survey data was collected from 2003-2006 and again from 2013-2016. NRCS evaluates conservation practice adoption through the CEAP Cropland Assessment, using a combination of farmer surveys, land use and soils information, along with resource models. CEAP project findings are used to guide USDA conservation policy and program development, along with assisting conservationists, farmers and ranchers and other land stewards with making sound and science-based conservation decisions.

Download the full report or a four-page summary of findings.

Next Steps

The report also revealed that cropping patterns have changed over the years in response to climate, policy, trade, renewable energy and prices, presenting a nutrient management challenge. Improving the timing and application method of nutrients can allow production demands to be met while reducing the impacts of crop production on the environment. NRCS plans to continue its focus on nutrient management conservation practices and strategies with vigorous outreach efforts to farmers and further engagement with partner groups to adjust to these changing trends.

More Information

For more information on CEAP, visit the CEAP webpage or view this multimedia story.

How green chemistry helps high school students connect to science lessons: A conversation with teacher Johanna Brown

Read the full post at Beyond Benign.

Johanna Brown is a chemistry teacher at Pullman High School in Washington. A passionate educator with an eye toward the future, Johanna has made green chemistry lessons an essential part of her students’ curricula, and she’s also supported other teachers in their green chemistry education.

We talked to Johanna about her background in education and how green chemistry has made her students more engaged in the classroom. As Earth Day approaches, we’re celebrating the connection between green chemistry principles and our ongoing commitment to being stewards of our environment. As Johanna says, “every day is Earth Day.”

6 takeaways from the CEQ Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool

Read the full story from the World Resources Institute. ENB covered the release of the tools last month.

To help federal agencies implement the Justice40 Initiative by identifying disadvantaged communities, the White House Council on Environmental Quality released a beta version of its Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool (CEJST) in February 2022. The tool identifies these communities through eight categories of disadvantaged status indices — related to underinvestment in energy, transit, workforce development, housing, water infrastructure and more. And each category has underlying topical indicators depicting different types of environmental, social and economic burdens.

The primary users of CEJST are likely to be federal agencies who will use the tool to direct federal investments in various climate change and clean energy programs to disadvantaged communities. However, the tool can also be used by policymakers in states and cities, industry and community organizations to identify and address areas with environmental justice concerns.  

New WRI analysis reveals insights about the disadvantaged communities the tool hopes to serve.

Tornadoes, climate change and why Dixie is the new Tornado Alley

The heart of U.S. tornado activity, once Tornado Alley, has shifted eastward. Brent Koops/NOAA Weather in Focus Photo Contest 2015, CC BY-ND

by Ernest Agee, Purdue University

Tornadoes and severe storms swept across the South in early April 2022, following a deadly and destructive March when over 200 tornadoes were reported. The March numbers, still preliminary, would be a record for the month, though detection has also improved. Severe storms have damaged homes from Texas to Florida, and north to South Carolina and Georgia in recent weeks. We asked tornado scientist Ernest Agee to explain what causes tornadoes and how the center of U.S. tornado activity has shifted eastward from the traditional Tornado Alley in recent years.

What causes tornadoes?

Tornadoes start with thunderstorms. Think of the thunderstorm as the parent of the tornado. When atmospheric conditions favor the development of severe storms, tornadoes can form.

The recipe for a tornado requires a few important ingredients: low-level heat and moisture and cold air aloft, coupled with a favorable wind field that increases in speed with height, as well as changes in the wind direction in the lower levels.

The right combination of heat, moisture and wind can develop rotating thunderstorms capable of spinning off a tornado or a tornado family. Thunderstorms capable of spinning off tornadoes typically develop along and ahead of a frontal boundary – where warm and cold air masses meet – often accompanied above by a strong jet stream.

Why do tornado outbreaks seem to be getting more frequent and intense? Is climate change playing a role?

Studies do show tornadoes getting more frequent, more intense and more likely to come in swarms.

The most intense and longest-lasting tornadoes tend to come from what are known as supercells – powerful rotating thunderstorms. The December 2021 outbreak, with more than 60 tornadoes that swept across Kentucky and neighboring states, came from a supercell. The 2011 outbreak in Alabama was another.

All of this unfolds under the umbrella of global warming. While it’s still hard for climate models to assess something as small as a tornado, they do project increases in severe weather.

Forecasting tornadoes. NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory.

What’s interesting is that despite that increase, the per capita death toll from tornadoes has actually gone down in the latter half of the past 100 years. So, as bad as these new outbreaks are, science and technology are saving lives at a faster rate than storms are killing people.

Scientists can now anticipate and forecast areas where tornadoes may develop. If you look at NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center website, you’ll see eight-day outlooks now. That’s based on scientific knowledge and technology able to target where conditions conducive to tornadoes are developing.

People also know what to do now and are more likely to get warnings, and more homes have safe rooms able to withstand a tornado. Social media also plays a big role today. A few years ago, I had a student who was on his family’s farm when he got a text warning that a tornado was coming. He and his family got to safety just before the tornado hit.

The Southeast seems to be getting a lot more severe storms. Has Tornado Alley shifted?

In 2016, my students and I published the first paper that clearly showed, statistically, the emergence of another center of tornado activity in the Southeast, centered around Alabama.

Oklahoma still has tornadoes, of course. But the statistical center has moved. Other research since then has found similar shifts.

Map of U.S. showing tornado activity greatest from Louisiana through Alabama and north to Tennessee.
Mean number of days per year with a tornado registering EF1 strength or greater within 25 miles, 1986-2015. NOAA Storm Prediction Center

We found a notable decrease in both the total number of tornadoes and days with tornadoes in the traditional Tornado Alley in the central plains. At the same time, we found an increase in tornado numbers in what’s been dubbed Dixie Alley, extending from Mississippi through Tennessee and Kentucky into southern Indiana.

In the Great Plains, drier air in the western boundary of traditional Tornado Alley probably has something to do with the fact that tornadoes are a declining risk in Oklahoma while wildfire risk is growing.

Research by other scientists suggests that the dry line between the wetter Eastern U.S. and the drier Western U.S., historically around the 100th meridian, has shifted eastward by about 140 miles since the late 1800s. The dry line can be a boundary for convection – the rising of warm air and sinking of colder air that can fuel storms.

While scientists don’t have a full picture of the role climate change may be playing, we can certainly say we live in a warmer climate, and that a warming climate provides many of the ingredients for severe storms.

This article was updated April 6, 2022, with more severe storms and tornadoes across the South.

Ernest Agee, Professor Emeritus of Atmospheric Science, Purdue University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

If at first you don’t succeed, flush flush again

Ship flushing ballast tank

Read the full story at Anthropocene Magazine.

After decades of failure, the tide has finally turned in the battle against invasive species in the Great Lakes. Scientists say the main reason is mandatory saltwater flushing of ship ballast tanks.

Making the green energy greener: Lithuanian researchers proposed a method for wind turbine blades’ recycling

Read the full story from Kaunas University of Technology .

A method for recycling wind turbine blades has been developed that uses pyrolysis to break the composite materials into their constituent parts – phenol and fibre.

It’s a wet heat: Study shows humidity’s impact on AC emissions

Read the full story at Centered.

You’ve probably heard this phrase many times: It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. The adage appears to apply not just to human comfort but to greenhouse gas emissions as well.

The amount of energy used to power air conditioners has been well documented. New research from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado examines the less-studied environmental impact of removing humidity from the air. 

The researchers found that about half of energy-related emissions from air conditioning are caused by controlling the air moisture — not temperature. 

And while climate change causes an increasing desire to cool the air, the researchers say air conditioning is also contributing to worsening climate change.

Cloud seeding might not be as promising as drought-troubled states hope

Cloud seeding equipment near Winter Park in Colorado. Denver Water

by William R. Cotton, Colorado State University

Forecasters at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued their U.S. spring outlook on March 17, 2022, and their top concern was worsening drought in the West and southern Plains. Several western states have experimented with cloud seeding to try to increase precipitation, but how well does that actually work? Atmospheric scientist William Cotton explains.

On mountain peaks scattered across Colorado, machines are set up to fire chemicals into the clouds in attempts to generate snow. The process is called cloud seeding, and as global temperatures rise, more countries and drought-troubled states are using it in sometimes desperate efforts to modify the weather.

But cloud seeding isn’t as simple as it sounds, and it might not be as promising as people wish.

As an atmospheric scientist, I have studied and written about weather modification for 50 years. Cloud seeding experiments that produce snow or rain require the right kind of clouds with enough moisture, and the right temperature and wind conditions. The percentage increases in precipitation are small, and it’s difficult to tell when snow or rain fell naturally and when it was triggered by seeding.

How modern cloud seeding began

The modern age of weather modification began in the 1940s in Schenectady, New York.

Vince Schaefer, a scientist working for General Electric, discovered that adding small pellets of dry ice to a freezer containing “supercooled” water droplets triggered a proliferation of ice crystals.

Other scientists had theorized that the right mix of supercooled water drops and ice crystals could cause precipitation. Snow forms when ice crystals in clouds stick together. If ice-forming particles could be added to clouds, the scientists reasoned, moisture that would otherwise evaporate might have a greater chance of falling. Schaefer proved it could work.

On Nov. 13, 1946, Schaefer dropped crushed dry ice from a plane into supercooled stratus clouds. “I looked toward the rear and was thrilled to see long streamers of snow falling from the base of the cloud through which we had just passed,” he wrote in his journal. A few days later, he wrote that trying the same technique appeared to have improved visibility in fog.

A man looks into a freezer looking amazed at what he sees.
Vincent Schaefer, in foreground, examines snow created in a modified GE freezer in 1947, with Irving Langmuir, at left, and Bernard Vonnegut. General Electric Company/Museum of Science and Innovation

A colleague at GE, Bernie Vonnegut, searched through chemical tables for materials with a crystallographic structure similar to ice and discovered that a smoke of silver iodide particles could have the same effect at temperatures below -20 C (-4 F) as dry ice.

Their research led to Project Cirrus, a joint civilian-military program that explored seeding a variety of clouds, including supercooled stratus clouds, cumulus clouds and even hurricanes. Within a few years, communities and companies that rely on water were spending US$3 million to $5 million a year on cloud-seeding projects, particularly in the drought-troubled western U.S., according to congressional testimony in the early 1950s.

But does cloud seeding actually work?

The results of about 70 years of research into the effectiveness of cloud seeding are mixed.

Most scientific studies aimed at evaluating the effects of seeding cumulus clouds have shown little to no effect. However, the results of seeding wintertime orographic clouds – clouds that form as air rises over a mountain – have shown increases in precipitation.

There are two basic approaches to cloud seeding. One is to seed supercooled clouds with silver iodide or dry ice, causing ice crystals to grow, consume moisture from the cloud and fall as snow or rain. It might be shot into the clouds in rockets or sprayed from an airplane or mountaintop. The second involves warm clouds and hygroscopic materials like salt particles. These particles take on water vapor, becoming larger to fall faster.

A drawing of a plane flying
An illustration of cloud-seeding processes. Naomi E. Tesla/Wikipedia, CC BY

The amount of snow or rain tied to cloud seeding has varied, with up to 14% reported in experiments in Australia. In the U.S., studies have found a few percentage points of increase in precipitation. In a 2020 study, scientists used radar to watch as 20 minutes of cloud seeding caused moisture inside clouds to thicken and fall. In all, about one-tenth of a millimeter of snow accumulated on the ground below in a little over an hour.

Another study, in 2015, used climate data and a six-year cloud-seeding experiment in the mountains of Wyoming to estimate that conditions there were right for cloud seeding about a quarter of the time from November to April. But the results likely would increase the snowpack by no more than about 1.5% for the season.

While encouraging, these experiments have by no means reached the level of significance that Schaefer and his colleagues had anticipated.

Weather modification is gaining interest again

Scientists today are continuing to carry out randomized seeding experiments to determine when cloud seeding enhances precipitation and by how much.

People have raised a few concerns about negative effects from cloud seeding, but those effects appear to be minor. Silver ion is a toxic heavy metal, but the amount of silver iodide in seeded snowpack is so small that extremely sensitive instrumentation must be used to detect its presence.

A man attaches a row of canisters to an airplane wing.
Several companies attempt cloud seeding from airplanes. AP Photo/Dave Kolpack

Meanwhile, extreme weather and droughts are increasing interest in weather modification.

The World Meteorological Organization reported in 2017 that weather modification programs, including suppressing crop-damaging hail and increasing rain and snowfall, were underway in more than 50 countries. My home state of Colorado has supported cloud-seeding operations for years. Regardless of the mixed evidence, many communities are counting on it to work.

This article was updated March 17, 2022, with NOAA’s U.S. spring climate and weather outlook.

William R. Cotton, Professor Emeritus of Meteorology, Colorado State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2022 and beyond for the packaging industry’s CEOs: The priorities for resilience

Read the full story from McKinsey & Company.

The revolution sparked by two megatrends—sustainability and digital—is unprecedented in the packaging industry. We highlight six priority moves for industry participants as they seek to build their resilience.