Archive for 2014

Parched California Braces for Drought Without End in Sight

Publication: NBC News   Date: February 24, 2014   View Article

As California and other western states face what some scientists fear could be a prolonged drought amplified by global warming, water experts say there’s simply no way to predict how long the dry spell will last.

The best thing to do, they said, is to prepare for the worst and hope for rain. It wouldn’t be the first time California soil went parched for a long stretch. Tree growth rings in the region show evidence of prolonged periods of aridity in the past.

“To know that we are going into another pattern like that, that we could expect this drought to persist for 10 to 15 years is really, really, really hard to say,” Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb., told NBC News. “There is really nothing in our forecasting models that are being looked at that would suggest that we would even have the ability to do that.”

Parched California Pours Mega-Millions Into Desalination

Publication: NBC News   Date: February 17, 2014   View Article

Besieged by drought and desperate for new sources of water, California towns are ramping up plans to convert salty ocean water into drinking water to quench their long-term thirst. The plants that carry out the high-tech “desalination” process can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but there may be few other choices for the parched state.

Where the Pacific Ocean spills into the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, Calif., construction is 25 percent complete on a $1 billion project to wring 50 million gallons of freshwater a day from the sea and pour it into a water system that serves 3.1 million people.

Desalination was a dreamy fiction during the California Water Wars of the early 20th century that inspired the classic 1974 movie “Chinatown.” In the 1980s, however, the process of forcing seawater through reverse osmosis membranes to filter out salt and other impurities became a reliable, even essential, tool in regions of the world desperate for water.

Global Warming Pause? The Answer Is Blowin’ Into the Ocean

Publication: NBC News   Date: February 9, 2014   View Article

For the past 13 years, global surface air temperatures have hardly budged higher despite continual pumping of planet-warming gasses into the atmosphere from the engines of modern life. Does this prove global warming is a giant hoax? No, according to a new study, which says the missing heat is being blown into the western Pacific Ocean by extraordinarily powerful and accelerating trade winds.

“Their acceleration over the last couple of decades is way stronger than you’ve ever seen in a climate model, about twice as strong,” Matthew England, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, told NBC News. “This is an unprecedented level of strengthening and it is strong enough that it is actually pushing heat in the Pacific Ocean into the ocean’s interior,” he added.

As the heat is drawn down into the ocean’s interior, cooler water rises to the surface and cools air temperatures. When — it’s not a matter of if, noted England — the winds slacken, the heat stored in the Pacific Ocean will return to the atmosphere, allowing the surface air temperatures to spike higher and “catch up to the original projections of global warming in under a decade.”

Seahawks, Broncos Gear up for Super ‘Green’ Bowl

Publication: NBC News   Date: January 30, 2014   View Article

Given the legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington and Colorado, this year’s Super Bowl featuring the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos has already earned a few chuckles as the “green” bowl. Pot jokes aside, the annual pigskin revelry has become progressively more environmentally friendly over the past 20 years, according to the National Football League.

“Every year we are trying to push harder to make this a greener event,” Jack Groh, who has directed the league’s environmental program since Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta, told NBC News. Whether Super Bowl XLVIII will be the most environmentally friendly yet is hard to say, he noted, but boasted that it will be “the greenest sports event that New York and New Jersey have ever hosted.”

Polar Bears Switch Diets to Survive, Studies Say

Publication: NBC News   Date: January 24, 2014   View Article

Arctic polar bears may be adjusting their eating habits as their sea ice habitat melts and the furry white predators stand to lose the floating platform they depend on to hunt seals, their primary food. According to researchers, however, the bears are displaying flexible eating habits as their world changes around them.

Indeed, scientific studies indicate polar bear populations are falling as the sea ice disappears earlier each spring and forms later in the fall. But a series of papers based on analysis of polar bear poop released over the past several months indicate that at least some of the bears are finding food to eat when they come ashore, ranging from bird eggs and caribou to grass seeds and berries.

Be Prepared: ‘Extreme’ El Nino Events to Double, Study Says

Publication: NBC News   Date: January 19, 2014   View Article

During February 1998, a powerful jet stream pounded California with an unrelenting series of wet Pacific storms. Longstanding rainfall records fell. Oceanfront homes slumped into the roiling surf. Roads washed out across the state. Federal disaster areas were declared in 35 counties. At least 17 people died. The Red Cross opened 79 shelters and fed more than 100,000 people.

The culprit? An extreme El Niño, a phenomenon triggered by a warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean that shifts weather patterns around the world.

El Niño’s ills weren’t confined to California: In 1997-98, torrential rains washed away villages in northern Peru, heat waves rolled across Australia, and massive peat-bog fires cloaked Indonesia in a thick haze. All told, the impacts caused upwards of $45 billion in global economic losses and claimed an estimated 23,000 lives.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach