Supreme Court admissions case could upend environmental justice laws

Read the full story at Stateline.

In recent years, more states have crafted environmental justice policies to help communities of color plagued by polluted air and water, poor health outcomes and limited access to green space.

But now they fear that work could be upended by a pair of pending U.S. Supreme Court cases examining affirmative action admissions policies at universities. If the court strikes down affirmative action, many state lawmakers believe, the ruling could open legal challenges to “race-conscious” laws that seek to help marginalized communities.

The EU’s packaging regulation plans – and what the beverage industry thinks of them

Read the full story at Beverage Daily.

The European Commission has released its proposals for EU-wide rules on packaging to ‘tackle this constantly growing source of waste and of consumer frustration’. But what will this mean for the beverage industry? We break down the key points of the proposals – and hear from industry representatives on what this will mean for each sector.

How the Amelia Earhart mystery may inform microplastics research

Read the full story from Penn State University.

The aluminum panel is dull, corroded and covered in a patina of scratches from tumbling around the Pacific Ocean, likely for decades, before washing up on the small atoll of Nikumaroro. Parallel rivet lines puncture the panel, similar to the ones that dotted the Lockheed Electra Amelia Earhart flew on her ill-fated round-the-world trip in 1937, but they’re not a precise match. It is possible that the panel was a retrofit — a patch to replace a rear window — but with only 85-year-old photos to compare, the theory is difficult to investigate beyond reference measurements. 

But it’s not impossible, especially with neutron radiography. The non-destructive imaging technique can peer beyond the veneer of age and damage to spy the tiniest of clues. It can also ferret out mere hints of contaminants, including pervasive pollutants. 

How an early oil industry study became key in climate lawsuits

Read the full story at e360.

For decades, 1960s research for the American Petroleum Institute warning of the risks of burning fossil fuels had been forgotten. But two papers discovered in libraries are now playing a key role in lawsuits aimed at holding oil companies accountable for climate change.

Where humans live, microplastics end up in rivers, SLU research finds

Read the full story from St. Louis University.

A paper published in Environmental Pollution authored by Saint Louis University (SLU) scientists shows that human proximity is the best indicator of microplastics being found in the Meramec River in Missouri. 

Navy to lock down PFAS in groundwater with carbon

Read the full story from the Alameda Post.

The Navy is ramping up plans to inject a state-of-the-art powdered charcoal product into PFAS-contaminated groundwater at Alameda Point according to an October 13, 2022, cleanup document posted on the California Department of Toxic Substances Control website. The project will take place at a small area where Navy firefighters trained with PFAS-containing fire suppression foam next to the Oakland Estuary. The goal is to prevent the migration of PFAS into the Oakland Estuary.

Snack maker triples output with launch of wind-powered production facility

Read the full story at Manufacturing Dive.

Colorado-based snack company Bobo’s recently opened a wind-powered manufacturing facility in Loveland, Colorado, to meet growing customer demand, the company announced last week.

The new 123,000-square-foot bakery will more than triple Bobo’s current production capacity to churn out a million bars, bites and toaster pastries per day, according to the news release. “We no longer need to pass up on growth opportunities due to production constraints,” Bobo’s CEO TJ McIntyre said in a statement.

Bobo’s plans to complete the installation of all new equipment in the facility by the end of January, having “stood up more than a 100% increase in piece/day throughput,” thanks to its larger size, more than double the 55,000-square-feet previously shared between three locations, McIntyre told Manufacturing Dive in an email.

What analyzing National Sword can teach us about optimizing US plastics recycling

Read the full story at Waste Dive.

The dust has yet to settle from the major reckoning the U.S. plastics recycling system faced, but a few notable factors have the potential to change the status quo going forward.

Here’s how solidarity persuades people to make sacrifices for the climate

Read the full story at Anthropocene Magazine.

In a new survey, people were more willing to pay for climate action in their country if other countries are implementing similar policies.

What is a flash drought? An earth scientist explains

Weeds grow on the dried-out floor of the Hoppin Hill Reservoir in North Attleboro, Mass., on Aug. 3, 2022. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

by Antonia Hadjimichael, Penn State

Many people are familiar with flash floods – torrents that develop quickly after heavy rainfall. But there’s also such a thing as a flash drought, and these sudden, extreme dry spells are becoming a big concern for farmers and water utilities.

Flash droughts start and intensify quickly, over periods of weeks to months, compared to years or decades for conventional droughts. Still, they can cause substantial economic damage, since communities have less time to prepare for the impacts of a rapidly evolving drought. In 2017, a flash drought in Montana and the Dakotas damaged crops and grasses that served as forage for cattle, causing US$2.6 billion in agricultural losses.

Flash droughts also can increase wildfire risks, cause public water supply shortages and reduce stream flow, which harms fish and other aquatic life.

Less rain, warmer air

Flash droughts typically result from a combination of lower-then-normal precipitation and higher temperatures. Together, these factors reduce overall land surface moisture.

Water constantly cycles between land and the atmosphere. Under normal conditions, moisture from rainfall or snowfall accumulates in the soil during wet seasons. Plants draw water up through their roots and release water vapor into the air through their leaves, a process called transpiration. Some moisture also evaporates directly from the soil into the air.

Graphic showing precipitation, evaporation and transpiration between soil and the atmosphere
Water constantly circulates between soil and the atmosphere – sometimes directly, sometimes via plants. USGS

Scientists refer to the amount of water that could be transferred from the land to the atmosphere as evaporative demand – a measure of how “thirsty” the atmosphere is. Higher temperatures increase evaporative demand, which makes water evaporate faster. When soil contains enough moisture, it can meet this demand.

But if soil moisture is depleted – for example, if precipitation drops below normal levels for months – then evaporation from the land surface can’t provide all the moisture that a thirsty atmosphere demands. Reduced moisture at the surface increases surface air temperatures, drying out the soil further. These processes amplify each other, making the area increasingly hot and dry.

Moist regions can have flash droughts

Flash droughts started receiving more attention in the U.S. after notable events in 2012, 2016 and 2017 that reduced crop yields and increased wildfire risks. In 2012, areas in the Midwest that had had near-normal precipitation conditions through May fell into severe drought conditions in June and July, causing more than $30 billion in damages.

New England, typically one of the wetter U.S. regions, experienced a flash drought in the summer of 2022, with areas including Boston and Rhode Island receiving only a fraction of their normal rainfall. Across Massachusetts, critically low water levels forced towns to issue mandatory water restrictions for residents.

Planning for flash droughts in a changing climate

Conventional droughts, like the Dust Bowl of the 1930s or the current 22-year drought across the southwestern U.S., develop over periods of years. Scientists rely on monitoring and prediction tools, such as measurements of temperature and rainfall, as well as models, to forecast their evolution.

Predicting flash drought events that occur on monthly to weekly time scales is much harder with current data and tools, largely due to the chaotic nature of weather and limitations in weather models. That’s why weather forecasters don’t typically make projections beyond 10 days – there is a lot of variation in what can happen over longer time spans.

And climate patterns can shift from year to year, adding to the challenge. For example, Boston had a very wet summer in 2021 before its very dry summer in 2022.

Scientists expect climate change to make precipitation even more variable, especially in wetter regions like the U.S. Northeast. This will make it more difficult to forecast and prepare for flash droughts well in advance.

But new monitoring tools that measure evaporative demand can provide early warnings for regions experiencing abnormal conditions. Information from these systems can give farmers and utilities sufficient lead time to adjust their operations and minimize their risks.

Antonia Hadjimichael, Assistant Professor of Geosciences, Penn State

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