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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider

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    melt pond Antarctica

    From above, Arctic ice looks quite different in summer than it does in winter. A sheen of white covers most surfaces in winter due to snowfall and frigid weather. As temperatures rise in the summer, turquoise splotches of color begin to speckle the ice surfaces.

    The splashes of blue are melt ponds, areas where snow has melted and pooled in low spots on glaciers and sea ice. A digital camera on NASA's ER-2 airplane captured this top-down view of a melt pond atop a glacier in southeastern Alaska on July 16, 2014. Chunks of ice float on the pond's turquoise water. (For additional images of melt ponds, please visit our Earth Matters blog.)

    When it took this photograph, the ER-2—a civilian version of the Air Force's U2-S reconnaissance plane—was flying at 64,000 feet (20,000 meters), about twice as high as a commercial jet. In addition to the camera, the ER-2 was carrying the Multiple Altimeter Beam Experimental Lidar. MABEL is a laser altimeter designed to measure the elevation of glaciers, mountains, forests, and other landforms below.

    melt ponds AntarcticaScientists are using MABEL's measurements to design algorithms for the upcoming Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) mission. MABEL is similar to an instrument that will fly on ICESat-2, and scientists can use its measurements now to better understand how the instrument works and what the data will look like when they start making measurements from space.

    The 2014 MABEL campaign was launched, in part, to study melt ponds and other features of summer ice. Engineers added a new camera system that made it possible to match the MABEL measurements with a photographic glimpse of the ground. The digital camera took a picture every 3 seconds, with each frame capturing an area about 2.5 by 1.5 kilometers (1.6 by 0.9 miles).

    Antarctica Sea Ice and Melt PondsMany questions remain about the impact of melt ponds on the extent of Arctic ice melt. Water absorbs much more heat from the Sun than ice and snow, so when a pool of liquid water forms on top of ice, it changes the heat balance. The water warms up in the sunlight and can speed the melting of surrounding ice, possibly influencing the Arctic Ocean's sea ice extent.

    "The melt pond coverage may be an indicator of the ice cover at the end of the summer," said Ron Kwok, a senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

    To find out more about the MABEL campaign, please read this story. To find out what it's like to suit up and fly the ER-2 in try this blog post.

    SEE ALSO: The Future Of Medicine Depends On The Most Fragile Places On Earth

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    probiotic illustration twins fat skinny

    Jim Lewis and Jim Springer were identical twins raised apart from the age of 4 weeks.

    When the twins were finally reunited at the age of 39 in 1979, they discovered they both suffered from tension headaches, were prone to nail biting, smoked Salem cigarettes, drove the same type of car and even vacationed at the same beach in Florida.

    The culprit for the odd similarities? Genes.

    Genes can help explain why someone is gay or straight, religious or not, brainy or not, and even whether they're likely to develop gum disease, one psychologist explains.

    Such broad-ranging genetic effects first came to light in a landmark study — Minnesota Twin Family Study — conducted from 1979 to 1999, which followed identical and fraternal twins who were separated at an early age. [Seeing Double: 8 Fascinating Facts About Twins]

    "We were surprised by certain behaviors that showed a genetic influence, such as religiosity [and] social attitudes," said Nancy Segal, an evolutionary psychologist at California State University, Fullerton, who was part of the study for nine years. "Those surprised us, because we thought those certainly must come from the family [environment]," Segal told Live Science. Segal described the groundbreaking research on Aug. 7 here at a meeting of the American Psychological Association.

    Born together, raised apart

    Researchers at the University of Minnesota, led by Thomas Bouchard, launched the landmark study in 1979. Over the course of 20 years, they studied 137 pairs of twins — 81 pairs of identical twins (twins who developed from one egg that split in two), and 56 pairs of fraternal twins (twins who developed from two eggs fertilized by two different sperm).

    The Jim twins were probably the most famous set of twins involved in the study, but other pairs were equally fascinating. One pair of female twins in the study were separated from each other at 5 months old, and weren't reunited until age 78, making them the world's longest separated pair in Guinness World Records.

    The Minnesota study resulted in more than 170 individual studies focusing on different medical and psychological characteristics.

    In one study, the researchers took photographs of the twins, and found that identical twins would stand the same way, while fraternal twins had different postures.

    Another study of four pairs of twins found that genetics had a stronger influence on sexual orientation in male twins than in female twins. A recent study in Sweden of 4,000 pairs of twins has replicated these findings, Segal said. [5 Myths About Gay People Debunked]

    Nature vs. nurture

    A 1986 study that was part of the larger Minnesota study found that genetics plays a larger role on personality than previously thought. Environment affected personality when twins were raised apart, but not when they were raised together, the study suggested.

    Reporter Daniel Goleman wrote in The New York Times at the time that genetic makeup was more influential on personality than child rearing — a finding he said would launch "fierce debate."

    "We never said [family environment] didn't matter," Segal said at the APA meeting. "We just made the point that environment works in ways we hadn't expected."

    Another study, commissioned by the editor of the journal Science, looked at genetics and IQ. The Minnesota researchers found that about 70 percent of IQ variation across the twin population was due to genetic differences among people, and 30 percent was due to environmental differences. The finding received both praise and criticism, but an updated study in 2009 containing new sets of twins found a similar correlation between genetics and IQ.

    Moreover, a study in 1990 found that genetics account for 50 percent of the religiosity among the population — in other words, both identical twins raised apart were more likely to be religious or to be not religious, compared with unrelated individuals.

    Other studies found a strong genetic influence on dental or gum health. That research helped to show that gum disease isn't just caused by bacteria, it also has a genetic component, Segal said.

    Another study found that happiness and well-being had a 50 percent genetic influence.

    In another study, researchers surveyed the separated twins about how close they felt to their newfound sibling. Among identical twins, 80 percent of those surveyed reported feeling closer and more familiar with their twin than they did to their best friends, suggesting a strong genetic component in the bond between identical twins.

    The Minnesota study gave scientists a new understanding of the role of genes and environment on human development, Segal said. In the future, twin studies will aim to link specific genes to specific behaviors, as well as investigate epigenetics — what turns genes on or off, she said.

    Segal, who wrote a book about the study called "Born Together — Reared Apart: The Landmark Minnesota Twins Study" (Harvard University Press, 2012), is now doing a prospective study of Chinese twins raised apart, often in different countries, by adoptive families.

    Copyright 2014 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    SEE ALSO: Rare Twins Hold Hands Minutes After Being Delivered

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    tesla musk

    When Tesla Motors announced the short list of possible locations for its lithium-ion cell "Gigafactory," California wasn't on it.

    The Silicon Valley electric-car maker is headquartered in Palo Alto and builds the Model S in Fremont, about 30 miles away.

    But it chose Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas as the finalists for the Gigafactory site.

    Quickly, however, California tried to lure Tesla back and get back into contention--despite a reputation for onerous regulation that discourages large manufacturing enterprises.

    Now, the state may waive environmental rules that would normally make construction of such a large manufacturing facility more difficult, according to a report in The Los Angeles Times.

    State Senator Ted Gaines told the Times that Governor Jerry Brown's office is negotiating an incentive package for Tesla that would include waiving certain parts of the nearly half-century-old California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

    TESLA Model s CBS

    The statute requires state and local government agencies to conduct reviews of new development projects, to address potential threats to the environment.

    Under the proposed incentive program, this time-consuming review process would be curtailed, which should appeal to Tesla as the company works toward its goal of full battery-cell production by 2017.

    That's when production of its smaller and less expensive Model III electric sedan is scheduled to begin--but, CEO Elon Musk has said, the car can't go into production if the gigafactory isn't producing battery packs for it by then.

    Tesla Model S Elon Musk

    State officials are also reportedly considering letting Tesla begin construction, and perform damage mitigation later, as well as limiting lawsuits that could slow down the project.

    In addition to the regulatory shortcuts, the California government could well offer Tesla tax breaks that add up to around $500 million--about 10 percent of the gigafactory's anticipated cost.

    Tesla Model S

    Tesla acknowledged in its recent quarterly-earnings call that excavation work at a site in Reno, Nevada, had been completed.

    It is doing initial site-preparation work in at least two sites, so that it can proceed immediately to construction once it makes the final decision on where to put the gigafactory.


    SEE ALSO: Here's Everything We Know About Tesla's Gigafactory

    SEE ALSO: Now California Might Get Tesla's Gigafactory After All

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    shanghai smog china

    BEIJING (Reuters) - China has issued a "behavioural standards" guide to combat pollution and reduce environmental damage, urging people to do everything from walking and riding bicycles to buying goods with less packaging.

    The Chinese government has identified public participation as a key element in its efforts to reverse some of the environmental damage done by more than three decades of breakneck economic growth.

    The list of eight standards, published on the environment ministry's website ( on Wednesday, urged citizens to refrain from burning garbage, and limit the use of fireworks and barbecues.

    It also urged the public to take responsibility for pollution by reporting illegal behaviour to the authorities.

    Amendments to the country's Environmental Protection Law, passed on April, made it an obligation for all Chinese citizens to protect the environment.

    A local government study showed in April that 31 percent of the smog in China's capital Beijing is derived from vehicles, 22.4 percent from coal burning and 18.1 percent from industry.

    Beijing's environmental bureau said 14.1 percent was made up of other smaller sources like food preparation, livestock rearing and vehicle repairs.

    (Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

    SEE ALSO: China's Smog Is So Bad You Can See It From Space

    SEE ALSO: China May Use Drones To Kill The Smog Problem

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    logging burnt treesGROVELAND Calif. (Reuters) - Long, heavy logging trucks, swaying with the weight of charred California pines, wind through the forest near Yosemite National Park, part of an effort to clean up from last year’s devastating wildfires even as new blazes break out this summer.

    But as the U.S. Forest Service prepares to release plans this month for selling thousands of the burned trees to logging companies, conflict is brewing with residents who say the trucks are dangerous and environmentalists who fear the project is just an excuse for making money.

    "They're taking everything," said nature writer David Lukas, whose home in Groveland is not far from where the devastating Rim Fire charred 260,000 acres of public and private land in and around Yosemite in August 2013. "It's shocking."

    Lumber crews have already begun removing hundreds of burned trees at risk of falling on people and roads. On Aug. 22, the Forest Service will announce final plans for removing still more damaged trees, on up to 30,000 acres in the Stanislaus National Forest outside Yosemite park, and work could begin by the end of the month.

    Fire officials say the tree removal, to be paid for by the sale of the scorched trees, will help thin the forest to make future blazes less intense while providing jobs for loggers and protecting the public.

    But environmentalists worry that the Forest Service, eager for money from the sale of the salvaged trees, will remove too much precious habitat.

    The argument is taking place against a backdrop of increasing danger from wildfires throughout the western United States, and a fire season that is reaching its peak amid a devastating drought that has left dry, combustible fuel ready to burn.

    Over the past two months, wildfires have raged out of control in Oregon, Washington and California. Scientists say conditions will only worsen amid the drought, climate change and a reluctance to thin the forests due to concerns about the environment.


    "The fires are more intense, more frequent and burning larger acreage," said Bruce Greco, spokesman for the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University, which researches wildfires.

    Decades of fighting all fires, instead of letting some burn naturally, protects homes that are increasingly being built near forested areas, but leaves too much fuel for future blazes, he said.

    In developing its plan, the Forest Service tried to balance its management of fire risk with environmental concerns and a goal of spurring economic growth in rural areas, said Robert Bonnie, who oversees the Forest Service as undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    "It's not possible to satisfy everyone, but it is possible to create a management plan going forward that has strong scientific credibility," Bonnie said.

    Logging will not take place in Yosemite park itself.

    The Forest Service has not said how much money it expects to reap from the sale of trees, but environmental documents indicate that over the next 2-5 years, 661 million board-feet of timber could be recovered, enough to frame 55,000 houses. The logging would create 4,230 jobs in two counties, and state figures show that a similar amount of timber was worth about $100 million last year.

    Income from the sale would be used for forest restoration and fire prevention at the cash-starved Forest Service, which is expected to use half or more of its roughly $5 billion budget this year fighting fires. By comparison, just 15 percent of the budget went to firefighting 20 years ago, Bonnie said.

    Still, environmentalists would prefer to see more of the burned trees left in the forest to become habitat for wildlife, said Sierra Club representative Ani Kame'enui.

    "When you salvage trees you are disregarding the benefits of fire to that landscape," Kame'enui said. "Salvage logging is a highly controversial activity, rarely advocated for by the 230conservation community."

    The equipment used to remove the trees can be damaging to the soil, and the denuded land can be prone to landslides, she said.

    In the Stanislaus forest, where piles of logs as high as a two-story building sit in the middle of open clearings littered with tree stumps, the tracks of heavy equipment are clearly visible in the brown soil.

    Residents say logging trucks careen past them on narrow mountain roads, hurrying to drop off their loads. Some fear it will get worse if the Forest Service approves the massive salvage project this month.

    "Those trucks are dangerous," said Dawn Miller, who lives with her family in a forested area near Groveland.


    (Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Jill Serjeant and Mohammad Zargham)

    SEE ALSO: The Enormous California Wildfire Looks Like Hell On Earth

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    geothermal capacityDEPENDING on your point of view, hydraulic fracturing--or "fracking"--is either the future of clean, natural gas or an environmental apocalypse. Fracking liberates gas trapped underground by drilling sideways from vertical well-shafts into horizontal layers of shale rock.

    Millions of gallons of a cocktail of water, sand and chemicals are injected into the horizontal wells at high pressure, fracturing the shale, releasing the gas--and causing violent protests in Europe and parts of America.

    Geothermal energy, by contrast, has yet to stir much controversy. Most geothermal plants are located where water has seeped down into the Earth's crust, been heated and forced back up through permeable rock. Drill a well to between 3,000 and 12,000 feet, and the searing water and steam can be released to drive generators.

    Geothermal is a minnow among power sources. America has the world's highest installed capacity of geothermal generating plants--3.4 gigawatts' worth at last count--but they generate only 0.4% of its electricity. New "enhanced geothermal systems" (EGS), however, look set to make geothermal a bigger contributor--and potentially as controversial as shale.

    The industry may dislike the comparison, but EGS is geothermal fracking. Millions of gallons of water and chemicals are injected into mostly vertical wells at relatively high pressure, and the combination of cold-meets-hot, pressure and chemistry shears the deep, hot rock.

    This creates new "fracture networks" through which water can be pumped, heated and sent back to the surface to generate power. Conventional geothermal wells cost at least $5m to develop, and about half fail. The new technique can reduce the failure rate and extend the size and life of existing geothermal fields. In time, think EGS fans, it will allow geothermal fields to be established wherever there is suitable hot rock.

    Doug Hollett, who oversees geothermal policy at the US Department of Energy, is one such fan. He points to a project the department worked on with Ormat, a leading geothermal firm, in Desert Peak, Nevada, where EGS boosted the productivity of an existing field by 38%; it also became the first EGS project to supply America's power grid.

    Mr Hollett calculates that EGS adds capacity to existing fields at a cost of 2-5 cents per kilowatt-hour; for low-cost natural gas the equivalent is 6-7 cents. The department reckons that with EGS techniques, geothermal could eventually meet 10% of America's electricity needs.

    Investors are intrigued but wary. AltaRock Energy, a Seattle-based company partly financed by Khosla Ventures, a venture-capital firm, has built a demonstration project in Oregon which it claims can extract six to ten times as much power from a field as older EGS techniques.

    The sticking-point, says Susan Petty, AltaRock's founder, is commercialisation. Geothermal is a steady source of energy (unlike windpower), has very high capacity-utilisation rates, zero fuel costs and near-zero greenhouse-gas emissions.

    The trouble is that successful existing geothermal plants do not need EGS, and for many failed wells it is uneconomic to introduce it. So with the help of an as-yet unnamed partner, AltaRock plans to buy up existing fields that it thinks it could make profitable using its version of EGS. That way it will avoid the costs of new infrastructure while demonstrating its technology's viability.

    The energy department reckons that EGS techniques could be commercially viable as soon as next year, at which point more private investors and perhaps utilities might pile in. It is not alone in its optimism: Germany, France and Britain have state research programmes for EGS.

    All this has environmentalists gearing up for another fight. EGS can trigger earthquakes. Most are minuscule but an early project on a seismic fault in Basel, Switzerland was scrapped after several not-so-small quakes.

    It is also possible that water used for EGS may leak, contaminating surface waters or soil. America has rules to ensure EGS's safety, and every project is surrounded by seismometers. Whether this will prevent protests or prohibitions is open to hot debate.

    Click here to subscribe to The Economist.

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    Polar Bear and Grizzly Hybrid Baby

    As the Arctic warms and natural habitats are transformed by human activity, strange new hybrid animals are starting to wander the earth.

    New animals have started to appear when two similar species have been forced into the same territory.

    In 2006, a white bear with brown splotches, believed to be a hybrid of a polar bear and a grizzly, was shot by Arctic hunters. Hunters have killed three similar bears, sometimes called pizzly or grolar bears.

    In 2009, a possible hybrid of a right whale and a bowhead was photographed in the Bering Sea.

    In some cases hybrid animals are a response to a changing ecosystem. White-tailed deer populations have exploded on the East Coast of the U.S. and a new predator — the coywolf — has appeared that hunts them. It's a combination of Western coyotes and wolves, with some dog in the mix. Also known as the Eastern coyote, these canines are strong and social hunters like wolves, so packs can hunt deer; but they are also adaptable enough to live near humans, like coyotes. 

    In other cases, the increased hybridization of animals is a strong indication that our climate is changing. As Arctic sea ice continues to melt at drastic rates, different species of seals, whales, and bears previously blocked by huge slabs of ice will begin mingling in the same regions and possibly mating.

    Hybrid animals are generally infertile, and the trend is worrisome because it could drive certain species to extinction since those animals are no longer mating with their own kind.

    But genetic tests showed that at least one of the polar-grizzly hybrids was a second-generation animal, and the coywolf is a successful hybrid, which shows that some species might be resilient.

    A study published in the journal Nature in 2010 listed 34 species that are at risk of cross-breeding because of a warming climate.

    In the case of the coywolf we've used actual photos, but for the rest we asked artist Nickolay Lamm to help us imagine what some of those hybrid animals would like if they came to life. 

    Elin Pierce, a writer and editor with a Ph.D. in biology, helped to hypothesize what features the hybrid animals would have, based on dominant features of the original two species, and any descriptions or photos of those hybrids that already exist in the wild.

    A beluga whale is on the left and narwhal is on the right.

    This is a beluga-narwhal hybrid. In this artist's interpretation, the hybrid has some narwhal coloring and the forehead has less of a bump. In the late 1980s, a whale skull thought to be that of a beluga-narwhal mix was found in west Greenland. Local hunters say they have also spotted the hybrid.

    A polar bear is on the left and a grizzly bear is on the right.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    lake whillans map

    Antarctica, the coldest place on Earth, teems with microscopic life. Tiny organisms dwell on the ice and live inside glaciers, and now, researchers confirm, a rich microbial ecosystem persists underneath the thick ice sheet, where no sunlight has been felt for millions of years.

    Nearly 4,000 species of microbes inhabit Lake Whillans, which lies beneath 2,625 feet (800 meters) of ice in West Antarctica, researchers report August 20 in the journal Nature. These are the first organisms ever retrieved from a subglacial Antarctic lake.

    "We found not just that things are alive, but that there's an active ecosystem," said lead study author Brent Christner, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. "If you had to think up what would be the coolest scenario for an ecosystem in Antarctica, you couldn't make this up." [See Photos of Lake Whillans' Drilling Project & Microbial Life]

    Cold, dark and alive

    Subglacial Lake Whillans drill site

    Antarctica has nearly 400 lakes trapped under its ice sheet. Some of them — like Lake Whillans — are connected by rivers and streams. Others are deep, isolated basins like Lake Vostok, where drillers have yet to successfully recover uncontaminated water samples. The new Lake Whillans discovery raises scientists' hopes that these other hidden waterways also carry life.

    "This is a landmark paper for the polar sciences," said Martyn Tranter, a glaciologist at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study. "This paper is bound to stimulate further calls for subglacial lake research."

    Drillers broke through to Lake Whillans in January 2013, after years of planning and more than $10 million spent by the National Science Foundation. The team, called WISSARD, used a custom hot-water drill with its own decontamination system. Within a day of pulling out the tea-colored water, tests done in a temporary lab confirmed the lake sparked with life. Researchers returned to the United States with 8 gallons (30 liters) of lake water and eight sediment cores from the lake bottom. Scientists at Montana State University, the University of Tennessee and other institutions parsed out the precious samples, growing cultures of different cell types and sequencing the DNA. The results show evidence for 3,931 species of single-celled life in Lake Whillans. [Video: Life Discovered in Subglacial Lake Whillans]

    "We were surprised about the number of organisms," Christner said. "It's really not that different than the number of organisms in a lake on the surface."

    How life persistsbacteria colony

    Living without sunlight, all of the lake organisms rely on minerals in the water and lake muck for the energy needed to "fix" carbon dioxide, turning it into organic compounds. The most abundant microbe is an archaea that lives in the water (rather than mud) and oxidizes ammonium. When the archaea die, they become food for another group that oxidizes sulfur for energy, Christner said. The second most common group of microbes oxidizes iron. Yet another group of bacteria chomps on methane.

    "These are opportunists that are using every available energy source," Christner said.

    Crushed under ice, Lake Whillans is not like a pond or lake at the surface. The environment is more like the deep ocean floor, which is cold and starved for nutrients, Christner said. The water's muddy color comes from glacial flour — pulverized rock that is so fine it barely settles in liquid.

    The oddly shaped pool is only 6.5 feet (2 m) deep and 23 square miles (60 square kilometers) in size. It sits on the side of a hill, trapped in an ice pocket by the weight of the ice above. The water temperature is only slightly below freezing, at 31.1 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 0.5 degrees Celsius). Antarctica's stream network regularly fills and drains Lake Whillans like a bathtub on a five- to 10-year cycle.

    The sea flooded Lake Whillans' home more than once before Antarctica iced over. The lake's ammonium and methane likely came from decomposing organic matter in these ancient marine sediments, the researchers said.

    "This area is like southern Louisiana with a kilometer [half-mile] of ice over it," Christner said.

    Life on other planets?

    bacteria from Subglacial Lake Whillans.

    The team would like to track down the origin of Lake Whillans' life— whether it arrived from elsewhere, brought in by ice or rivers, or was trapped in place, in the old ocean sediments.

    Only bacteria and archaea have been found so far, but the researchers have not thoroughly tested for more complex eukaryotic life, the kind of cells that make up animals such as the worms that dwell in Antarctica's surface lakes. However, they did not expect to encounter such organisms, because the subglacial lake is energy-starved.

    "It's likely that different types of microbes inhabit different types subglacial lakes closer to the center of Antarctica, particularly those that are away from the former marine sediments that underlie big areas of Antarctica," Tranter said.

    The findings at Lake Whillans also provide a unique glimpse into how life may survive on other planets, such as within Mars' ice cap or beneath the icy exterior of Jupiter's moon Europa.

    "I think this does strengthen the case for finding life on icy bodies," Christner said.

    Email Becky Oskin or follow her @beckyoskin. Follow us @livescience, Facebook& Google+. Original article on Live Science.

    Copyright 2014 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    SEE ALSO: Scientists Hope 2,000-Year-Old Ice Holds Clues To Climate Change

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     Bardarbunga volcano

    A small volcanic eruption has occurred under Iceland's Dyngjujokull glacier, prompting authorities to raise the warning code for aviation to red, the highest level, Iceland's meteorological office said on Saturday.

    The region, in the center of the North Atlantic island nation, has already been evacuated due to days of heightened seismic activity there.

    bardarbunga volcano"It is believed that a small subglacial lava-eruption has begun under the Dyngjujokull glacier," the Icelandic Met Office said. "The aviation color code for the Bardarbunga volcano has been changed from orange to red."

    Ash from the eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010 shut down much of Europe's airspace for six days.

    The red code indicates that an eruption is imminent or underway with a significant emission of ash likely.

    Brussels-based aviation authority Eurocontrol said that as soon as the volcano had erupted, the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in London would produce a regular forecast about the levels of volcanic ash in the atmosphere.

    Based on this forecast, civil aviation authorities may issue a notice but it was the responsibility of individual airlines whether they would operate and how they would adapt their flight schedules, Eurocontrol said.


    (Reporting by Niklas Pollard and Robert-Jan Bartunek, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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    The "pause" in global warming may last another decade before surface temperatures start rising again, according to scientists who say heat is being stored in the depths of the Atlantic and Southern Oceans.

    Global average surface temperatures rose rapidly from the 1970s but have been relatively stable since the late 1990s, in a trend that has been seized upon by climate sceptics who question the science of man-made warming.

    Climate change scientists have proposed more than a dozen theories to explain the "hiatus", which they say is a "distraction" from the widespread consensus on global warming.

    A new study, published in the journal Science, suggests that a natural cycle of ocean currents has caused the phenomenon by drawing heat from shallow waters down almost a mile into the depths of the Atlantic and Southern Oceans.

    The cycle naturally produces periods of roughly 30 years in which heat is stored near the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, leading to warmer temperatures, followed by roughly 30 years in which it is stored in the depths, causing cooler surface temperatures, it suggests.

    Rising surface temperatures in the last three decades of the 20th century were roughly half caused by man-made global warming and half by the ocean currents keeping more heat near the surface, it finds.

    When the ocean cycle reversed around the turn of the century, drawing heat down into the depths, this served to counteract the effects of man-made global warming.

    "When the internal variability that is responsible for the current hiatus switches sign, as it inevitably will, another episode of accelerated global warming should ensue," the study concludes.

    Prof Ka-Kit Tung of the University of Washington, one of the report's authors, said:"Historically the cool period lasted 20 to 35 years. The current period already lasted 15 years, so roughly there [are] 10 more years to go."

    But he said that other impacts of climate change could upset the cycle, which is caused by variation in the salinity of the water as denser, saltier water sinks.

    Prof Tung said the study's findings were a surprise because previous studies had suggested it was the Pacific Ocean that was "the culprit for hiding heat".

    "The data are quite convincing and they show otherwise," he said.

    Prof Piers Forster, professor of climate change at the University of Leeds, said the paper was "another a nail in the coffin of the idea that the hiatus is evidence that our projections of long term climate change need revising down".

    "Variability in the ocean will not affect long-term climate trends but may mean we have a period of accelerated warming to look forward to," he said.

    Prof Richard Allan, professor of climate science at the University of Reading, said: "Although it is human nature to seek a single cause for notable events, in reality the complexity of the climate system means that there is not one simple explanation for a decade of unusual climatic conditions."

    SEE ALSO: A Changing World Is Creating These Hybrid Animals

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    Lobster boat captain Craig Stewart and sternman Tim Lovett start work before sunrise and haul traps for hours on end.

    Making a living is harder now than ever before, as overhead costs for fuel, equipment, and bait steadily climb, while unprecedented lobster landings over the last several years have sent prices tumbling.

    "We're struggling," said Stewart, a third-generation lobsterman who fishes off the coast of Portland."If I come in with 600 pounds, people will see that I made $1000 for that day. They don't see that I just replaced the engine for $30,000 or that I paid over $300 for bait."

    Stewart is one of Maine's 5,900 licensed lobster harvesters, who together haul in roughly 80% of U.S. landings of American lobster, worth more than $300 million.

    To experience the life of a Maine lobsterman last summer we headed to Portland, Maine and spent a day aboard Stewart's 36-foot working lobster boat.

    Around 4:30 a.m., sternman Tim Lovett leaves Holyoke Wharf in South Portland to pick up captain Craig Stewart from Long Island in Casco Bay, near Portland.

    By 6 a.m., Craig is at the helm. He begins zigzagging in and out of buoys to locate his traps.

    Each lobster boat is limited to 800 traps as part of Maine law. A portion of the traps are hauled and set each day.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Passenger pigeon

    The last known passenger pigeon, named Martha, died 100 years ago today at the Cincinnati Zoo. She was 29.

    The passenger pigeon, which once numbered in the billions in Norther America, has become a symbol of extinction. It was wiped out in the 19th century due to overhunting.

    Animals face many natural threats, including changing temperatures, predators, and unexpected disasters. But no external stresses have proved more destructive to the survival of other living things than people.

    The following gallery includes other animals that have gone extinct almost directly by the hands of humans.

    Tasmanian tiger (Extinct since 1936)

    The Tasmanian tiger, also called the thylacine, was a marsupial native to Australia and the island of Tasmania.

    The carnivore was seen by farmers as a threat to sheep and therefore hunted, trapped and poisoned for government bounties.

    "Many people, however, believe that bounty hunting alone could not have driven the thylacine extinct and therefore claim that an unknown disease epidemic must have been responsible," researcher Thomas Prowse, of Australia's University of Adelaide, said in a statement.

    Using population models to simulate the direct effects of bounty hunting and habitat loss, the new study found that humans alone were responsible for the animal's doom. 

    The last wild Tasmanian tiger was captured in 1933 and taken to the Hobart Zoo, where it died three years later.  

    Woolly Mammoth (Extinct for ~10,000 years)

    The woolly mammoth disappeared about 10,000 years ago, after roaming Siberia and North America for around 250,000 years.

    Although there's been some disagreement about what delivered the final blow, a recent study found that hunting by humans, on top of environmental stresses like climate and habitat change, spelled the end for the furry beast.  

    Dodo Bird (Extinct since ~1681)

    For centuries, the flightless Dodo bird lived undisturbed on the island of Mauritius off the coast of Africa. Because they had no enemies on the island, the wingless birds were easy prey when humans arrived in the early 16th century. 

    Although the exact date is uncertain, people believe the last dodo bird was killed in 1681. 

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    The winners of the British Wildlife Photography Awards were revealed on Monday. 

    "The Awards celebrate both the work of amateur and professional photographers and the beauty and diversity of British wildlife," the organization said on its website.

    The winning images in 16 different categories were chosen from thousands of entries.

    You can check out all the winning images and a selection of highly recommended photos on the award website, and check out our favorites below.  

    The winning image of a greylag goose, called "The Tourist," was taken by Lee Acaster. "It was a real privilege to have such a close encounter with a wild bird in the very heart of London," he said, "I vividly remember the excitement I felt as she patiently waited for me to get the shot, and I knew immediately this was a once in a lifetime opportunity."


    Steven Fairbrother captured this image of a shag, a good-sized bird, resting in the Farne Islands of England. 


    This photo of an otter munching down on a puffin was taken by Richard Shucksmith in Scotland. 


    A close-up of a grey seal claw taken by Jim Greenfield in England. 


    "Cairngorms" was photographed in Scotland by Peter Cairns.


    Susie Hewitt snapped an image of a gnat in a window in northern Ireland. 


    "A life at Sea for Nesting Gannets" was taken in Scotland by Ruth Asher.


    A black and white photo of a blue shark was taken by Alexander Mustard in Cornwall, England. 


    A red telephone box overgrown with vegetation was snapped in London by Philip Braude. 


    Brown hares photographed by Andrew Parkinson in Derbyshire, England. 


    SEE ALSO: Stunning Images From The 2012 Wildlife Photo Competition Of The Year

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    Minimum Sea Ice Area 2012 09 16.flat Nasa Arctic Sea Ice

    There is more sea ice in the Arctic this summer than there was two years ago in 2012, a fact that has led to misleading stories that imply that there's more uncertainty about what's happening in the Arctic than there actually is.

    But comparing right now to two years ago and drawing conclusions about climate from those isolated data points is like saying "it's cold outside, guess we don't have to worry about global warming." It's an absurd comparison that doesn't take into account all the available information.

    Although Arctic sea ice waxes and wanes with the seasons, it covers the smallest area in late September of every year — which is why, since we've been able to measure the extent of the ice with satellites, we look at the area covered each year and talk about what that means.

    So does the fact that there is more Arctic sea ice now than there was in 2012 mean that global warming has stopped or that it's really not as bad as some people claim it is?

    No, it doesn't — and this graph by the National Snow and Ice Data Center that Elon Musk tweeted out yesterday very clearly shows why:

    This chart shows the extent of Arctic sea ice at its minimum from 1979 to 2013, compared to the average amount of minimum sea ice. As Phil Plait points out over at Slate, there are several times where the level of sea ice jumps up from the year before, but the overall trend is still down. The trend is what really matters, he says.

    In 2013, there was more sea ice than there was in 2012 — 1.97 million square miles as opposed to 1.32 million — but that's still substantially less than the average minimum extent of more than 2.4 million square miles. On August 17, 2014, sea ice was measured at 2.36 million square miles, which while that's higher than 2012 it's already below the average approximately a month before it usually hits its minimum level.

    Yes, there's more ice now than there was in 2012, the year that the amount of sea ice hit the smallest extent ever recorded, according to NASA. That year, ice levels were also influenced by other external factors, including the melting of an ice dam that led to a sudden influx of warm water into the Arctic.

    As NASA's sea ice scientist Walt Meier explains, "while this year is not heading toward a record low minimum extent in the Arctic, sea ice is well below normal and continues an overall pattern."

    It's the pattern that matters.

    SEE ALSO: 30 Award-Winning Photos Of Nature Taken By Scientists

    READ MORE: Why Cold Weather Doesn't Mean Global Warming Isn't Real

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    grassFor Mexico's state oil giant, the expansion of organized crime into fuel theft is a growing menace. Now, a bungled attempt to illegally tap an oil pipeline has threatened an environmental disaster in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, after an estimated 4,000 barrels of crude oil poured into the San Juan River. 

    The alleged failed theft on August 16 caused an oil spill of up to 15 thousands tons, according to the national oil company, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex). The slick has already advanced five miles, authorities say — and it is feared that rain forecast for the coming days and weeks will spread the contamination further. 

    boat fix

    The influx of rainwater could send the pollution downstream towards El Cuchillo dam, which provides drinking water to Mexico's third most populated city, Monterrey. 

    The city's primary water supply, El Cuchillo — which also used for crop irrigation — is just 30 miles away from the contaminated site.

    It is estimated that the oil has already spread five miles from the site of the spill. 

    fixed oil

    Local authorities say the first to be affected will be the roughly 4,000 inhabitants who live in the area surrounding the pipeline, a rural region where cattle raising and agriculture are the primary means of sustenance. 

    Experts have yet to assess the damage to the local environment. The area is one of high natural biodiversity, teeming with plant and wildlife. 

    During the fall, the regional dams become estuaries for migratory birds, several species of ducks, cranes, and herons, as well as endangered species like the black bear and American puma.

    bird oil

    In a press release published on Wednesday, Pemex said that more than 500 people were working in the area to contain the damage, claiming that since the spill was discovered, 90 percent of the oil had been retrieved.

    walking fix

    Last Monday, Pemex said the leak had been contained, and estimated their efforts at the site would be finished by the beginning of this week. 

    But Mexico's National Water Commission (Conagua) is gauging the cleanup that will come after the oil is removed. Conagua estimates the work will take up to three months.

    oil ew

    Petroleum absorbent barriers have been put in place to impede the oil's progress, and machinery has been brought in to suction the fuel that is lying on the water's surface.


    The San Juan River is the second in Mexico to be polluted this August.

    Last Monday, the largest mining corporation in Mexico had a scare when a train carrying 240 tons of sulfuric acid derailed just yards from the edge of the Santa Cruz River, in the border town of Nogales, Sonora. The derailment did not lead to a major spill. 

    But, less than three weeks before, on August 6, this same company, Grupo México, spilled more than 10 million gallons of copper sulphate acid solution into two other northern rivers, the Sonora River and the Bacanuchi River. Locals near the spill have reported severe chemical burns upon contact with the water.


    The Madero-Cadereyta pipeline which leaked into the San Juan River runs through a region commonly exploited by Mexican criminal organizations, specializing in oil theft, and black market fuel sale.

    These activities are becoming commonplace. On December 2010, 30 people died during an explosion that was fed by spilled combustible, stemming from an illegal siphoning operation in San Martín Texmelucan, Puebla.

    Clandestine tapping and illegal siphoning of oil ducts is an ever-increasing problem in Mexico. The recent VICE News documentary "Cocaine & Crude" revealed that between 2000 and 2013, oil and gas theft from Pemex increased by over 1,500 percent. It is now thought that upwards of 10,000 barrels are stolen in Mexico each day.

    Oil theft is big business in Mexico, and cartels have been progressively venturing into this profitable informal industry, which is a notch more sophisticated than their usual endeavors: kidnapping, extortion, and drug trafficking.

    In 2013, the lost profit for PEMEX resulting from such activities was estimated at more than half a billion dollars. The general director of Pemex, Emilio Lozoya, who is reportedly supervising the cleanup effort himself, stated that this leak has cost the company more than $11 million in earnings.

    Besides the temporary loss of revenue for both the drug cartels and the Mexican government resulting from this massive leak, residents are concerned that the most significant lasting consequence will prove to be environmental in nature.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Arctic Sea Ice August 3 2014

    Two years ago, Arctic sea ice shrank to cover the smallest area ever recorded — only 1.32 million square miles were measured on September 16, 2012, more than a million square miles less than what would be considered "normal" at summer's end.

    This year, Arctic sea ice most likely has not hit its low point yet, which usually happens near the end of September — before winter makes the sea ice start growing again. Even so, it doesn't look like there will be another record low, a fact that some websites have seized upon to claim that Arctic sea ice is recovering.

    But not hitting a record low doesn't mean that the amount of sea ice is climbing again. We started measuring Arctic sea ice using satellites in 1979, and from one year to another the amount of ice varies. Sometimes, it's higher than the year before, but the overall trend is still clear: the amount of Arctic sea ice is going down.

    On September 13, 2013, the quantity of sea ice was at its lowest point for the year: 1.97 million square miles. This year, on August 17, almost a month before the average low point, sea ice was measured at 2.36 million square miles. The National Snow and Ice Data Center projects that 2014's Arctic sea ice minimum will fall between 1.9 and 2.1 million square miles. Those numbers are all lower than the average minimum amount of ice measured between 1981 and 2010, 2.4 million square miles.

    The NASA chart below puts this year and the two years prior in some historical context. It shows the amount of sea ice the Arctic is projected to lose this year, in square kilometers (the "extent"), based on data models following the patterns of different years.

    So if this year follows 2012 trends (dark green line), there would be much more ice loss than if we followed 1980 trends (light green line). You can also see that the dotted purple line representing the average ice loss in 2007-2013 shows a much steeper dip than the dotted green line representing the 1981-2010 average.

    2014 Sea Ice Estimates

    Projections for 2014 still show the minimum amount of ice as higher than in 2012, but remember: 2012 was a record low, and there are multiple reasons for that.

    Why 2012 Was A Special Case

    For one, 2012 was the continuation of a downward trend. There's been some variation from year to year, but overall, the amount of sea ice measured at the low point is going down and has been going down since we started monitoring sea ice by satellite in 1979.

    That clear downward trend is shown by the below chart, which compares the minimum sea ice each year to the average low between 1981 and 2010, which is represented by the "0" on the y-axis. The amount of sea ice at the low point hops up and down each year, but the overall trend — represented by the dotted line — is down, down, down.

    You can see the amount of ice at the low point in 2013, for example, was higher than during the record low in 2012 but still far below average — and lower than in any individual year before the early 2000s.

    sea ice chart

    In addition, as Phil Plait at Slate explains, another 2012 event had a significant impact that year.

    The longest river in Canada, the Mackenzie River, feeds into the Beaufort Sea in the Arctic. Usually, water from the river slowly flows into the sea, which means that warm river water steadily cools in the Arctic. But in 2012, water was mostly trapped behind a barrier of sea ice.

    Sometime between June and July, the ice dam broke. Researchers found that the river volume was particularly high that year — with the largest outflows from the river ever recorded, meaning that a crazy quantity of warm water had been stopped up.

    Here's a thermal image of the area before the dam broke, which we first spotted at Wired:

    openwater thermal image beaufort sea arctic sea ice

    And here's what happened after:

    beaufort sea arctic ice mackenzie river july 5 2012

    A rush of warm water flooded into the sea, raising temperatures in some places by as much as 15 degrees Celsius. That meant that in 2012 alone, the normal melting of the sea ice was significantly accelerated by a one-time event: the rapid flooding of the relatively warm Mackenzie River into the cold Arctic.

    Plait writes that this event caused "a huge increase in thermal energy; by my rough calculations it would far, far exceed the energy released by a nuclear weapon. No wonder that ice melted."

    Why Arctic Sea Ice Matters

    sea ice approaching minimum 2013

    Decreasing amounts of Arctic sea ice make the planet significantly more vulnerable to climate change, which is why this downward trend is bad news.

    Arctic sea ice helps moderate the climate all around the world. A big, thick, ice cap is bright white, and in the Arctic, that ice reflects 80% of the sunlight that hits it in summer and sends it back into space. Smaller levels of ice, as with the current trend, mean that there's more dark ocean to absorb heat from the sun, gradually making the Arctic — and eventually, the planet — warmer over time.

    Additionally, recent research has shown that the snow cover on Arctic sea ice has thinned 30 to 50% over the past 50 years, which may further hasten the Arctic meltdown, as that snow helps insulate the sea ice.

    What About Antarctica?

    Meanwhile, the amount of sea ice around Antarctica, the icy continent at the opposite pole from the Arctic, is at record highs. This seems like it could be good news, but "seems" is the operative word here. Antarctic sea ice doesn't work the same way Arctic sea ice does, and the amount of ice at the South Pole doesn't do nearly as much to regulate rising temperatures.

    Arctic sea ice does more to protect against climate change than Antarctic sea ice because of simple geography. As the National Snow and Ice Data Center explains, the Arctic is a sea surrounded by land. That land traps the shrinking amounts of Arctic ice while the summer sun is strong, so it helps reflect summer light.

    However, since Antarctica is a continent surrounded by water, summer sea ice there tends to float north where it melts. This means that there's less thick ice there to reflect the sun's rays away during the hot summer months, when it would make the biggest difference — which is why Arctic sea ice is considered more important.

    Even so, the fact that sea ice in Antarctica is not shrinking still throws people off, but there are other explanations for this.

    Many factors contribute to Antarctic conditions, but one relevant one is that the winds that circle Antarctica are responsible for creating much of the ice surrounding that continent — something has been described as a "permanent polar vortex." Those winds have actually grown stronger in recent years.

    More importantly, the growth in Antarctic sea ice is more than offset by the loss of Antarctic land ice, which is a very real problem that is already happening.

    A new study shows that as Antarctica gains sea ice, it is simultaneously losing a net 125 cubic kilometres of land ice a year — not quite as much as Greenland, which is losing 375 cubic kilometres a year, but still a huge amount.

    Over time, it's clear that Antarctic land mass is melting, and Arctic sea ice is melting. The small gains in Antarctic sea ice don't begin to make up for those massive losses.

    SEE ALSO: 30 Award-Winning Photos Of Nature Taken By Scientists

    READ MORE: Why Cold Weather Doesn't Mean Global Warming Isn't Real

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    Iceland Bardarbunga volcano eruption

    Last Friday's eruption at Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano had many worried about the possible impacts of a larger eruption on air travel. Another eruption at Hawaii's Kilauea volcano has caused a state of emergency to be declared on Big Island, as lava flows from the ongoing eruption have advanced within a mile of a residential zone.

    That's just one example of how much danger volcanoes pose to the U.S. — and we aren't doing much about it.

    Compared with Iceland, the U.S. is much more vulnerable to volcanic disasters — and has been failing at monitoring these risks, according to a government report.

    The United States Geological Survey's proposed National Volcano Early Warning System classifies volcanoes by threat level and by how well they're monitored.Where Iceland has 32 active volcanoes, the United States has 169 — 55 of which are designated as serious threats by the United States Geological Survey's Volcano Hazards Program in the report. Unfortunately, only 3 of these are being monitored with the most up-to-date instruments available.

    For example, 39% of Very High Threat level volcanoes in the US, like Mount Rainier in Washington, have only limited monitoring, which means that we can monitor them for major changes in activity, but not in enough detail to model and predict their behavior in the future.

    As the report states:

    Waiting to deploy a proper monitoring effort until a hazardous volcano awakens and an unrest crisis begins means that scientists, civil authorities, businesses, and citizens are caught in a reactive mode of 'playing catch up' with the volcano, trying to get instruments and civil-defense measures in place before the unrest escalates and the situation worsens. Precious time and data are lost in the weeks it can take to deploy a response to a reawakening volcano — time and data that the public needs and should have to prepare for the hazards they may be confronted with.

    Here are the areas of the US that the report highlighted:

    The Cascades

    Of particular concern, according to the report, are 13 Very High Threat volcanoes that are inadequately monitored, including nine volcanos in the Cascade Range. Among these are Mount Shasta in California, Crater Lake in Oregon, and Mount Rainier in Washington. As the report states, "Cascade volcanoes do not erupt frequently, but they threaten major populations and development."

    See how close they are to major cities in the Pacific Northwest:

    Cascades VHT Rainier white 2For instance, Mount Rainier, highlighted by the white arrow in the above photo, is considered to be the most threatening volcano in the Cascades, in part because it's close to the Seattle-Tacoma suburbs. Interestingly, the greatest risk from Mount Rainier isn't an eruption per se, but rapid flows of mud and boulders called "lahars" that an eruption could trigger.

    Mount St. Helens, also in Washington state, is another high priority, as "its two eruptive episodes of the past three decades indicate a high probability of renewed eruptive activity."

    The Aleutian islands

    Another group of top-priority volcanoes includes 19 High and Moderate threat volcanoes in Alaska and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands that currently have no real-time monitoring, but would pose significant risks to aviation in the event of an eruption.

    Volcanic eruptions pose a greater threat beyond the release of molten lava. Volcanic ash, which consists of jagged pieces of rock and glass, can disrupt electronics, threaten human health, and even alter the global climate. It can be difficult to get an accurate idea of how dangerous these eruptions can be, since it depends on their strength and on how the winds are blowing at the time of the eruption.

    As you can see in the map below, most of these volcanoes are located in the Alaskan Aleutian islands, and five of these are considered by the USGS to be under-monitored and to potentially pose significant threats to aviation.

    You can see in the map below that these islands are remote and mostly uninhabited, but in reality their airspace isn't:

    aleutian arrows 2These five unmonitored volcanoes are just part of a larger grouping of active volcanoes, known as the Aleutian Arc. They run all the way up to near Anchorage:

    Aleutian Arc Map 2A major eruption at any of these volcanoes could have severe impacts on cargo flights — in fact two of these volcanoes in the map below, Pavlof and Cleveland, erupted last year.

    Ash from the Pavlof, which erupted in May, went as high as 22,000 feet above sea level, disrupting regional air travel; ash from Cleveland's explosive eruptions rose as high as 35,000 feet.

    Cleveland and Pavlov 2Monitoring volcanic activity of these and other volcanoes is crucial to predicting eruptions before they happen and responding appropriately in order to save money and, more importantly, lives.

    The USGS report notes that "the needed monitoring improvements would entail new capital costs for equipment and recurring expenses for operation and maintenance and take several years to implement."

    On the other hand, it points out that "airborne ash clouds have caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to aircraft and nearly brought down passengers jets in flight, and ash falls have disrupted the lives and businesses of hundreds of thousands of people."

    The Yellowstone supervolcano

    While it's highly unlikely to happen, the sheer devastation that would result from a supereruption at Yellowstone volcano in Wyoming has captured the public imagination, even inspiring a two-part documentary series exploring the potential effects.

    According to the USGS, "If another catastrophic caldera-forming Yellowstone eruption were to occur, it quite likely would alter global weather patterns and have enormous effects on human activity, especially agricultural production, for one-to-two decades."

    Fortunately, Yellowstone has not erupted in any way at all in 70,000 years. Jake Lowenstern, USGS researcher and Scientist-in-Charge of Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, puts the odds of a supereruption at somewhere between one in 100,000 and one in a million in any given year.

    Other volcanoes that are currently erupting, or on notice

    kilauea lava flowsThe highest priorities at any given moment are volcanoes that are either erupting or exhibiting significant signs of unrest. Some of these are:

    Hawaii's Kilauea has been erupting almost continuously for more than three decades, with no signs of stopping, while Mauna Loa shows elevated seismic activity, including earthquakes.

    Shishaldin, in Alaska, is experiencing "low-level eruptive activity."

    Pagan Volcano, in the Mariana Islands, and Cleveland Volcano, in the Aleutian chain, are both exhibiting signs of unrest. On the positive side, these two volcanoes were not monitored at all as of the USGS report, but are being monitored now, so some progress has been made.

    IN PICTURES: Here Are The Most Dangerous Volcanoes In The US

    SEE ALSO: Icelandic Volcano Erupts

    DON'T MISS: These Lucky Flyers Got A Once-In-A-Lifetime View Of An Erupting Volcano

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Recently, rumors have been swelling of a danger at Yellowstone National Park. That danger? A brewing supervolcano eruption.

    The fear of a Yellowstone supereruption, which ultimately went viral, may have begun back in February when a seismometer called B944 began sending senseless data to a public viewer at the University of Utah's seismographic station, as George Black reports in The New Yorker.

    Luckily for most of the U.S., the likelihood this eruption would happen is pretty low: about one in 100,000 any given year. If it did happen, it would be pretty devastating, though.

    Supervolcano = super danger

    The danger of these eruptions isn't just lava in the area around the volcano — the ash alone poses a serious threat. Breathing hot ash can result in respiratory burns, and the minerals it contains can irritate the skin and cause abrasions in the eyes and the respiratory system. The pileup of ash on rooftops has resulted in building collapses, and ash accumulation on streets can make roads dangerous, if not impossible, to navigate. And ash in the sky disrupts air travel by blocking visibility and interfering with electronics.

    The following map show a simulated distribution of volcanic ash if Yellowstone were to erupt to its full potential. The scale is in millimeters, 25.4 of which make up an inch. So people in the purple area would be coated with more than an inch of ash, while people in the blue areas would find themselves buried in it:

    yellowstone ash mapIn short, a Yellowstone supereruption would disrupt electronics and endanger human health in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and affect other parts of the country. Moreover, a month-long supereruption could affect the global climate for years, even decades.

    When will it happen?

    Fortunately, it's also extremely unlikely to happen anytime soon, despite a lot of apocalyptic handwringing to the contrary.

    "Thinking about a Yellowstone supereruption is like imagining a large asteroid hitting the Earth," says Jacob Lowenstern, a research geologist with the USGS and Scientist-in-Charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. "It could happen, but it's not something you can plan for or worry about, because it's such a low-probability event."

    yellowstone lava flowsIn fact, Yellowstone hasn't erupted at all for 70,000 years, and the probability of a supereruption in any given year is somewhere between one in 100,000 and one in a million, according to Lowenstern. "The most likely thing to happen when it does erupt is a moderate eruption with a minimal effect outside of Yellowstone."

    While there are gaps in our volcano monitoring program, we are better off focusing our efforts on those that we can predict and prepare for smaller eruptions, Lowenstern says.

    "If you have a regular eruption that puts sulfur into the atmosphere, it can affect the earth's climate," he adds. "That's the kind of eruption that we should be thinking about."

    IN PICTURES: These 18 'Very High Threat' Volcanoes Could Wreak Havoc On The US

    SEE ALSO: 52 Volcanoes That Pose A 'Serious Threat' To The US Aren't Being Well Monitored

    SEE ALSO: Insane GoPro Video Shows Man Rappelling Into Volcano

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    Crater Lake volcano in Oregon, part of the Cascade Range

    If the recent volcanic eruption in Iceland has got you wondering which volcanoes you should be worrying about, and exactly how much to worry about them, you're in luck.

    The United States Geological Surveys Volcano Hazards Program has all the volcano maps and charts you need to make an informed decision about your level of volcano-induced anxiety.

    There are 55 dangerous volcanoes in the US. A caveat: this is not a ranking of the volcanoes by their danger level.

    As Wendy Stovall, a geologist with USGS, told Business Insider in an e-mail:

    There are many volcanoes that are threatening due to factors such as tectonic setting, population density, eruption frequency, and potential to erupt again. The variations in these factors make each of the NVEWS [National Volcano Early Warning System]-designated 'high threat' volcanoes uniquely dangerous.

    For a full list of volcanoes by threat level, and a thorough description of how they're monitored, check out pages 20 and 21 of this 2005 volcano report from the USGS. More up-to-date information on individual volcanoes is available on the website for the USGS Volcano Hazards Program.

    The volcanoes designated as "Very High Threat" are near large population centers and have the potential to erupt explosively and to trigger lahars — swift, massive landslides of water, mud, and debris that rush downstream after an eruption.

    Many of the "High Threat" volcanoes are near smaller population centers and power or transportation infrastructure throughout Alaska. Some of these erupt more frequently, posing significant threats to aviation.

    US VolcanoesOur lack of comprehensive, up-to-date monitoring raises cause for concern. Ashfall from volcanic eruptions can interfere with electronics, make air travel impossible, and endanger human health. Real-time monitoring can save money as well as lives, by enabling local authorities to predict the impact of a given eruption and respond appropriately.

    Here's the full map of volcanoes in the U.S., from the USGS. This map shows all of the active volcanoes in the US by their alert level. White triangles mark volcanoes with no ground-based monitoring; green triangles mean there's no imminent cause for concern. The yellow and orange triangles indicate volcanoes that are currently erupting or are likely to erupt soon:

    US Volcanoes MapYou can see the Aleutian islands (a relatively uninhabited area of Alaska in the Pacific Ocean) is home to a lot of them — 5 "Very High Threat" and 26 "High Threat" volcanoes, as designated in the report. While not located near large populations, eruptions at these volcanoes could significantly disrupt air travel:

    Aleutian island chain volcanoesIn the continental US, most of the volcanoes are concentrated along the West Coast, particularly in the Cascades mountain range, part of the Ring of Fire in the Pacific Ocean. This area is home to most of the active volcanoes in the continental US, including nine "Very High Threat" volcanoes.

    West Coast Volcanoes

    IN PICTURES These 18 'Very High Threat' Volcanoes Could Wreak Havoc On The US

    SEE ALSO: Insane GoPro Video Shows Man Rappelling Into Volcano

    READ MORE: This Is What Would Happen If The Yellowstone Supervolcano Erupted

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    Canadian geologist David Hughes has some sober news for the Kool-Aid-drinking boosters of the United States' newfound eminence in fossil fuel production: it's going to go bust sooner rather than later.

    Working with the Post Carbon Institute, a sustainability think-tank, Hughes meticulously analyzed industry data from 65,000 US shale oil and natural gas wells that use the much-ballyhooed extraction method of hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as fracking. The process involves drilling horizontally as well as vertically, and then pumping a toxic cocktail of pressurized water, sand, and chemicals deep underground in order to break apart the rock formations that hold deposits of oil and gas.

    Hughes found that the production rates at these wells decline, on average, 85 percent over three years.

    "Typically, in the first year there may be a 70 percent decline," Hughes told VICE News. "Second year, maybe 40 percent; third year, 30 percent. So the decline rate is a hyperbolic curve. But nonetheless, by the time you get to three years, you're talking 80 or 85 percent decline for most of these wells."

    His conclusion calls into question the viability of developing a long-term national energy policy on the assumption that fossil fuel extraction will continue at current levels. Several new natural gas export terminals are under consideration across the country, and the energy industry is pushing for the reversal of a 1970s Congressional ban on crude oil exports. Calls to approve the Keystone XL pipeline and allow for greater transportation of oil and gas over the nation's rail lines are also based on the revolution in domestic energy production.

    frackingcaliAmerica's political elites are embracing the promise of American energy independence — and that, Hughes believes, is pure folly.

    He says that policies being urged by politicians ranging from former Alaska Governor Sarah "Drill, Baby, Drill" Palin to President Barack "All of the Above" Obama are promoting a quick, profit-making bonanza for the industry rather than the growth of a maintainable national energy policy.

    "There is no doubt that the shale revolution has been a game-changer in the short term," Hughes said. "The implication of my work is that it is not sustainable in the long-term."

    Hughes is no climate-change catastrophist prone to hyperbolic attacks on the fossil fuel industry. He works as a consultant to fossil fuel companies, such as Canada's Imperial Oil, and frequently advises energy investors. His high regard among energy industry professionals comes from 32 years of analyzing coal, oil, and gas formations for the Geological Survey of Canada, which provides the Canadian government with impartial scientific research on the nation's natural resources.

    A prosperous shale exploration area, known as a "play," requires the right mix of decomposed organic matter maturing over millennia into natural gas or oil, and rock formations that are permeable enough for surface wells to break them apart and extract the fossil fuel.

    Until recently, oil and gas trapped within shale rock formations was inaccessible: too technologically difficult to reach and too costly to extract. That changed in the 1990s, when Mitchell Energy pioneered horizontal, hydraulic fracturing and demonstrated that large-scale fracking could extract a reliable supply of shale gas from the Barnett Play of East Texas.

    According to the US Energy Information Administration, American shale oil production has rocketed over the last decade from 260,000 barrels per day to nearly four million barrels of oil per day, putting the US behind only Saudi Arabia and Russia in total oil production. Roughly 50 percent of US natural gas production comes from shale formations, helping the US become the world's largest producer of natural gas.

    But Hughes's analysis indicates that this rapid increase in domestic production will quickly decline.

    "Companies always drill their best locations first," he said. "Once you've run out of locations in the sweet spots, you're forced to lower and lower quality rock. The wells don't get any cheaper, however. They still cost the same, it's just that you have to drill more of them to offset that fuel decline."

    Hughes explained that more than 80 percent of the nation's shale oil comes from just two plays, the Bakken field in North Dakota and Montana and the Eagle Ford in Texas. He estimates that production in those regions will recede back to 2012 levels in 2019. Overall production across the nation's shale oil fields will peak in 2017.

    In just the Bakken, Hughes calculates that 1,400 new wells are needed per year to offset current production decline, which right now is 45 percent of current production rates of about a million barrels per day, or 450,000 barrels per day each year.

    "You need 1,400 $8 million wells to keep production flat, and they're drilling more than that — they're drilling 2,000 wells per year," he explained. "So production in the Bakken will continue to go up. But it's because at the moment they're continuing to drill the sweet spots."

    As those sweet spots are tapped, though, they will also begin to decline.

    fracking protest signThe scenario is similar to that of the nation's shale gas plays, where 80 percent of production comes from just five areas, several of which are already in decline, according to Hughes.

    "Take a look at the Haynesville play, which is primarily in Louisiana and East Texas," he said, referring to an area whose natural gas deposits were fracked starting in 2008. "It was the biggest shale gas play in the US in 2012, when it peaked, and it's now down 46 percent below its peak."

    In order to maintain current levels of shale gas production, Hughes estimates that the high rates of deterioration of such wells across the country will require the drilling of 7,000 new wells a year at a cost of $42 billion annually. For maintenance of the overall production of shale oil, some 6,000 new wells would need to be drilled every year, an endeavor that would cost $35 billion.

    New York's silent but deadly fracking problem. Read more here.

    Dan Whitten, a spokesman for the trade group America's Natural Gas Alliance, did not respond specifically to Hughes' data when approached for comment, but he did offer a general statement on the US natural gas sector.

    "Our companies make investments in these wells because the people with expertise in actual production rates have studied this and know that while wells do decline, they are able to continue to produce robust volumes of natural gas for decades," he said, "which is why most credible scientists who have looked at this see very strong production of this clean, American resource now and well into the future."

    The Independent Petroleum Association of America did not respond to a request for comment on the specifics of Hughes' research or on the long-term viability of shale oil production in the US.

    "David Hughes's data is not disputed," Jigar Shah, a solar energy entrepreneur and frequent commentator on US energy investment and production, told VICE News. "What it does is raise the question of what role governments are playing in places like North Dakota. At some point the dream ends."

    Shah pointed to the massive strain that the fossil fuel industry imposes on public infrastructure like roads and utility networks. He thinks that once the energy boom is over and industry giants have raked in their profits and withdrawn, states and taxpayers will be left to sort out their crumbling highways and decaying water systems on their own.

    "I can certainly understand corporate interests," Hughes remarked. "They do what they're doing because they're concerned about their quarterly returns. But they are not concerned about the long-term sustainability of energy production for America."

    "For me," he added, "the long-term policy is that shale is a short-term bonanza."

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