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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider

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    Aliso Canyon Methane Leak Porter Ranch

    At this very moment, a natural gas well in a quiet, hilly town in northern Los Angeles is spewing hundreds of millions of pounds of methane into the atmosphere.

    What's worse, workers are not even close to stopping the flow.

    The leak sprung from a Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) natural gas storage facility in Aliso Canyon, and it has been gushing methane — a highly flammable and potent greenhouse gas — into the sky since October 23.

    No one knows for sure how the leak happened, or how much gas the well has lost — and will lose. But a Dec. 23 aircraft flight through the gas plume hints that the well has leaked at least 145 million pounds of methane since October.

    "That translates into a global warming potential of about 1.6 million metric tons of CO2 [carbon dioxide]," the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board told Tech Insider via email.

    To put that into perspective, that's equivalent to the annual emissions of about 347,000 passenger vehicles.

    And again: The leak hasn't been stopped yet. It could take facility workers until the end of March — a staggering five months after the calamity began — to plug the well.

    Porter Ranch Methane gas

    Residents claim the gas, which has drifted into surrounding neighborhoods, is sickening them with nausea, nosebleeds, and headaches. Thousands of people are displaced as a result.

    Environmental activist Erin Brockovich has gone so far as to deem this one of the worst environmental disasters since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to the chemical mercaptan, which is added to the gas to give it that quintessential (and detectable) sulfurous smell, can cause staggered gait, vomiting, irritation of the respiratory system, wheezing, rapid heart beat, arm and leg rigidity, bluish discoloration of the skin, and irritated eyes and mucous membranes.

    Industrial exposures could even put someone in a coma and cause death by a blocked lung artery up to 28 days later.

    While the human side-effects from the gas are temporary, the atmospheric damage from the leak is lasting.

    Much like a blanket, greenhouse gases advance global warming by trapping heat in the atmosphere. While methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide (CO2), it is arguably worse. It doesn't stick around in the atmosphere as long as CO2, but it absorbs more heat, locking it into our atmosphere more efficiently.

    Experts estimate that methane can warm the planet tens, hundreds, or even thousands of times better than CO2 can.

    Methane, mercaptan, and other gases pouring from the well are invisible to the naked eye. But an infrared camera, operated by an Earthworks ITC-certified thermographer, was able to reveal the enormous methane plume in action on December 17:

    Here's another infrared shot shown by MSNBC, which is false-colored to better highlight the gas (yellow string of clouds at top):

    methane gas leak los angeles

    SoCal Gas crews are currently drilling a relief well that they will pump with fluids and cement to intercept and plug the flow of gas from the leaking well. The relief well will stretch about 8,000 feet below the surface and is expected to be completed by late March.

    The company has issued a press release describing efforts to control the leak.

    "SoCalGas recognizes the impact this incident is having on the environment," SoCalGas president and CEO Dennis V. Arriola said in the release. "I want to assure the public that we intend to mitigate environmental impacts from the actual natural gas released from the leak and will work with state officials to develop a framework that will help us achieve this goal."

    Tech Insider has reached out to SoCal Gas for an update on the problem, but we have not yet heard back. We'll update this post as soon as we do.

    CHECK OUT: America’s recent storms are causing historic flooding in Missouri

    NEXT: Why the East Coast is warmer than the West Coast right now

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: One of the world's great natural wonders could be forever altered by climate change


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    north pole storm

    A powerful winter cyclone — the same storm that led to two tornado outbreaks in the United States and disastrous river flooding — has driven the North Pole to the freezing point this week, 50 degrees above average for this time of year.

    From Tuesday evening to Wednesday morning, a mind-boggling pressure drop was recorded in Iceland: 54 millibars in just 18 hours. This triples the criteria for "bomb" cyclogenesis, which meteorologists use to describe a rapidly intensifying mid-latitude storm. A "bomb" cyclone is defined as dropping one millibar per hour for 24 hours.

    NOAA's Ocean Prediction Center said the storm's minimum pressure dropped to 928 millibars around 1 a.m. Eastern time, which likely places it in the top five strongest storms on record in this region.

    "According to the center's records, the all-time strongest storm in this area occurred on Dec. 15, 1986, and that had a minimum central pressure of 900 millibars," Mashable's Andrew Freedman reported on Tuesday. "The second-strongest storm occurred in January 1993, with a pressure of 916 millibars."

    As this storm churns north, it's forcing warm air into the Arctic Circle. Over the North Sea, sustained winds from the south are blasting at 70 mph, and gusting to well above 100 mph, drawing heat from south to north.

    Although there are no permanent weather stations at the North Pole (or really anywhere in the Arctic Ocean), we can use weather forecast models, which ingest data from satellites and surrounding surface observations, to estimate conditions at Earth's most northern location.

    On Wednesday morning, temperatures over a vast area around North Pole were somewhere between 30 and 35 degrees Fahrenheit, and for at least a brief moment, surpassed the 32-degree threshold at exactly 90 degrees North, according to data from the GFS forecast model.

    Data from the International Arctic Buoy Programme confirms that temperatures very close to the North Pole surpassed the melting point on Wednesday. Buoy 64760 at a latitude of 87.45 degrees North hit a high temperature of 0.7 degrees Celsius — or 33 degrees Fahrenheit — around 8 a.m. Eastern Time.

    north pole storm

    "Consider the average winter temperature there is around 20 degrees below zero," wrote the Capital Weather Gang's Jason Samenow on Monday. A temperature around the freezing mark signifies a departure from normal of over 50 degrees, and close to typical mid-summer temperatures in this region.

    In other words, the area around the North Pole was about as warm as Chicago on Wednesday, and quite a few degrees warmer than much of the Midwest.

    Meanwhile in habitable areas around the North Atlantic, winds are howling and waves are rocking the coastline. In Britain, a week of excessive rainfall has pushed rivers and streams well beyond their banks, stranding vehicles and buckling bridges.

    In a blog post on Monday, the U.K. Met office said that December has been a record-breaking month for rainfall in parts of the United Kingdom. A Christmas weekend storm brought up to 8 inches of addition rainfall on saturated soil. The Met Office listed just a small portion of the December records that were set this weekend, in some cases blowing away the previous December records by 10 inches. 

     

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Keeping fit in your 20s can lead to better memory and thinking skills in middle age


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    missouri flood

    The rain-swollen Mississippi River and one of its tributaries are now carrying untreated sewage downstream after flooding knocked out a treatment plant outside St. Louis.

    The rising Meramec River, which joins the Mississippi about 20 miles south of the landmark Gateway Arch, swamped the Fenton Wastewater Treatment Plant late Monday, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District reported. The plant normally handles less than 7 million gallons a day, but was treating nearly 24 million gallons a day when it was overrun, the agency said.

    "Sewage that would normally be treated at this wastewater treatment plant is not being treated at this time," the agency said. "Sewage is being diverted into nearby rivers and streams. The public is asked to avoid contact with any flood water or sewage in low lying flooded areas near the plant.

    The amount of water roaring untreated past the plant is a small fraction of the roughly 5 million gallons a second now coursing down the Mississippi. But Sewer District spokesman Sean Hadley said anyone exposed to floodwater should wash up afterward.

    "Floodwaters are already polluted as is," he said. "You should definitely take precautions and try to avoid any contact."

    The treatment plant outage has raised concerns among people like Alicia Lloyd, clean water policy coordinator for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

    missouri flooding

    "When the sewage is going untreated into riverways, that comes from kitchen sources, bathrooms, and laundries," Lloyd said. "All that contains chemicals, detergents, bacteria, nutrients and other pollutants that are harmful to our waterways."

    Hadley said the Fenton plant has been knocked out until the flood recedes and engineers are able to clean it up and repair it.

    "It's going to take some time to get it fully operational again," he said. Crews are sandbagging another St. Louis-area plant to prevent it from being overrun as well, he added.

    At least 13 people have died across the state as a result of days of heavy rain around the Christmas holiday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's office says. The Army Corps of Engineers expects the Mississippi to crest Thursday afternoon at more than 43 feet — nearly 14 feet over flood stage at St. Louis. The Meramec is expected to crest at a record 42 feet, while the National Weather Service projects the Mississippi will tie a 49.7-foot record set downstream at Chester, Illinois that was set in the major floods of 1993.

    missouri flood

    Flooding along the Meramec also forced authorities to close Interstate 44, a major St. Louis-area artery. High water also forced numerous roads and bridges to close on the Illinois side of the Mississippi as well.

    Lloyd said the flooding also highlights the hazards St. Louis and its surrounding communities are likely to face from climate change, which scientists say will bring more extreme weather in the coming century.

    "We need to build greater climate resiliency in the future, because this is going to continue to happen," she said. 

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: This 2,000-year-old killer fungus is the world's largest living organism


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    Dec 15 temperature map

    This year has been an incredibly strange one for weather.

    Throughout what has been the warmest year in recorded history, the world witnessed apocalyptic-like conditions, from snowstorms that buried major cities in record levels of snow to thunderstorms that led to massive flooding and hurricanes that hit unexpected places in unforeseen numbers.

    But we can't pin it all on El Niño.

    Yes, a lot of it can be chalked up to this year's El Niño, which has been one of the strongest on record. (El Niño is a regularly occurring event characterized by warmer-than-normal temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that make it easy for water to gather in the air into powerful storm systems). Still, many of this year's events have likely been made worse by human-made climate change. As decades of research suggest, a gradually warming climate is also amping up the likelihood and frequency of extreme events, from flooding to heat waves.

    Here's a rundown of the year's most freakish weather events, and why they aren't set to improve anytime soon:

    Winter, early 2015: Snow, snow, and more snow

    New England got buried when snowstorm after snowstorm pummeled the area. Within a single month, Boston got covered with more than 60 inches of snow, making it a record-breaking event.

    Although the record-breaking snowfall could be considered normal, climate researchers suggested that warming sea temperatures off the coast of New England could be a big factor in the amount of precipitation hitting the area. Plus, warmer temperatures just under freezing usually produces more snow than colder temperatures. 

    boston

    Spring 2015: Flooding, tornadoes, and drought

    Spring wasn't much better. A chilly April led to a month of extreme weather in May. Texas had massive flooding, heatwaves hit India, destructive tornadoes struck the Great Plains, and the East Coast flirted with drought-like levels of rain (something California is all too familiar with).

    texas flood

    Summer and Fall 2015: More hurricanes than usual

    Weird weather led to the spectacular picture below, taken in August of three Category 4 storms in the Pacific Ocean. On a scale of 1-5, category 4 storms are one of the most severe types, with raging winds that reach speeds between 130 and 156 mph.

    This historic activity can be attributed to the El Niño weather pattern, according to predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The weather pattern, which is associated with warming temperatures in the Pacific that mess with global weather systems, is tied to more frequent and stronger hurricanes, particularly in the Pacific. 

    three hurricanesFortunately, while severe, these hurricanes didn't see too much destructive landfall, with the exception of Hurricane Joaquin, which slammed the Bahamas with winds approaching around 130 mph. Joaquin never made landfall in the US, but it nevertheless caused flooding in South Carolina, with some areas getting almost two feet of rain. 

    Elsewhere, in the Arabian Sea, higher sea surface temperatures may have led to the two cyclones that hit the area for the first time ever. Scientists speculate that the cyclones were caused by a combination of these rising temperatures and El Niño.

    End of 2015 and beyond: Hard to predict

    On the heels of hurricane season, the world started amping up for what is likely to be the worst El Niño ever.

    December has seen more than its fair share of extreme weather, with flooding caused by storms and tornadoes in the south, blizzards in the southwest, and spring-like warm temperatures on the East Coast.

    Why? Warm, moist, El Niño-driven air.

    But it's not just El Niño. Climate change is likely adding fuel to the storms as well. 

    As  Justin Gillis reported in The New York Times, "This El Niño, one of the strongest on record, comes atop a long-term heating of the planet caused by mankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases. A large body of scientific evidence says those emissions are making certain kinds of extremes, such as heavy rainstorms and intense heat waves, more frequent."

    Warm ice skating

    If the past few months are any indication, 2016 is going to have its share of unusual weather. The NOAA's winter El Niño forecast runs through February, and the agency says we can expect more rain, similar warmer temperatures and, in some areas, drought.

    Not the most optimistic of outlooks for 2016. 

    RELATED: 11 photos that show how incredibly bizarre the weather in the US has been this month

    NEXT: Why the East Coast is warmer than the West Coast right now

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Flakka — the drug they call '$5 insanity' — is overwhelming police and hospitals in Florida


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    clean and clear cleanser

    President Obama approved a bill on Monday banning soaps, toothpastes, and bodywashes that contain a harmful ingredient.

    That ingredient is microbeads — tiny, nearly impossible-to-dissolve plastic particles that enter water streams by the billions. The beads are typically found in cleansing products because they can be used as tiny scrubbers, helping to wipe away oil and dirt from the skin or teeth.

    A recent study found as many as 1.7 million of the tiny particles per square kilometer in the Great Lakes region's Lake Erie, where much of our trash ends up.

    But why is the government targeting microbeads, rather then plastic bottles, plastic bags, or other sources of plastic debris?

    When it comes to waste, size matters

    Before getting either reused or discharged to the ocean, our wastewater gets processed at large wastewater treatment plants, where it is filtered and cleaned.

    But because they're so small, microbeads don't get caught in these filters. Instead, they're discharged directly into rivers, lakes, and the ocean.

    Fish, turtles, and other aquatic wildlife then feed on the tiny bits of plastic, which to them are often indistinguishable from food. And when they eat the beads, the plastic bits don't just pass through the animals' stomachs like normal food. Instead, the beads often become lodged in their stomachs or intestines. When this happens, the animals can stop eating and die of starvation, or suffer other health problems.

    "Microbeads are highly damaging to the natural environment and the wildlife that live there,"the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a press release. "Because natural alternatives already exist, a ban on their use in personal care products makes perfect sense."

    Gyres plastic microbead detail

    In New York state alone, 19 tonsof microbeads are washed down the drain each year, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, where they collect harmful pollutants like DDT.

    "We have the evidence that the micro plastics do cause harm," Marcus Eriksen, executive director of the 5 Gyres Institute, a research group that led the recent study, told Scientific American in 2013. "I am hoping we can translate that research into some positive action."

    Phasing out the microbead

    Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, and Procter & Gamble have all made pledges to phase out the most common kind of microbead from products. The new law will enforce those pledges by requiring companies to phase out the environmentally harmful beads starting July 1, 2017.

    The International Campaign Against Microbeads in Cosmetics has compiled a helpful list of the products that most likely contain microbeads.

    Here are the products:

    products with microbeadsproducts with microbeadsproducts with microbeads

    products that contain microbeads

    NEXT UP: 9 at-home remedies that actually work

    SEE ALSO: Most dietary supplements are useless, but here are the ones you should take

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The best logo changes of 2015


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    asteroid slooh pitbull

    December's weather has been pretty much apocalyptic in some parts of the world. Huge parts of Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, and the UK have been heavily hit by floods.

    Add to this the devastating, unseasonal tornadoes in Texas, and the crazily high temperatures of the US East Coast and in continental Europe.

    Man-made climate change is starting to take its toll, and the world will soon officially have warmed up by 1 degree Celsius since 1900, causing massive changes to our planet. 

    There's also the rise of Islamic State, and increasing tensions between Russia and Turkey after the latter shot down a Russian military plane in November. All in all, the world is in a bit of trouble.

    Humanity has already survived a financial crisis, and warnings of the Mayan Apocalypse in the past decade, but if 2016 is the year the world does finally start to collapse, we think you should know where to head to survive.

    We have selected places that we expect will remain fortresses of stability, safety, and prosperity no matter what the world throws at them.

     

    SEE ALSO: 2015 will mark a 'symbolic and significant milestone' for Earth in the worst way possible

    Iceland

    Iceland is by far the most isolated country in Europe, located hundreds of miles from any other land, making it tricky for any potential invaders to get to.

    The country is also awash with useful resources for staying alive. It is powered almost entirely by geothermal energy from the country's many active volcanoes, and its coastal waters have some of the best and most abundant seafood anywhere in the world. So in the event of having to hole out on the island for a long time, you can rely on being warm and well fed.

    Iceland also survived a near total collapse of its banking system during the financial crisis, so you know its citizens are pretty resilient, essential if the end of the world does come.



    Tristan da Cunha

    This island chain in the south Atlantic is actually the world's most remote inhabited archipelago, more than 2,000 kilometers from the nearest land. The population is just over 300, so we're sure they're looking for new residents. It's known for excellent fishing — the perfect career if times were to get really bad.



    Guam

    This is one for American patriots, who can take refuge in this far-flung outpost of America. Guam is situated in the Pacific, and it is home to a massive American military presence, perfect for keeping people safe in the event that Russian-Turkish relations go downhill and we find ourselves in the middle of World War III.

    Guam isn't exactly home to a booming economy, however, with most of its income coming from tourists and the US government.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Hippomane_mancinella_(fruit)

    In 1999, radiologist Nicola Strickland went on a holiday to the Caribbean island of Tobago, a tropical paradise complete with idyllic, deserted beaches.

    On her first morning there, she went foraging for shells and corals in the white sand, when the holiday quickly took a turn for the worse.

    Scattered amongst the coconuts and mangoes on the beach, Strickland and her friend found some sweet-smelling green fruit that looked much like small crabapples.

    Both foolishly decided to take a bite, and within moments the pleasant, sweet taste was overwhelmed by a peppery, burning feeling and an excruciating tightness in the throat that gradually got so bad they could barely swallow.

    The fruit in question belonged to the manchineel tree (Hippomane mancinella), sometimes referred to as "beach apple" or "poison guava".

    It's native to the tropical parts of southern North America, as well as Central America, the Caribbean, and parts of northern South America.

    The plant bears another name in Spanish, arbol de la muerte, which literally means "tree of death". According to the Guinness World Records, the manchineel tree is in fact the most dangerous tree in the world.

    As explained by the Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, all parts of manchineel are extremely poisonous, and "interaction with and ingestion of any part of this tree may be lethal".

    Manchineel belongs to the large and diverse Euphorbia genus, which also contains the decorative Christmas poinsettia.

    The tree produces a thick, milky sap, which oozes out of everything - the bark, the leaves and even the fruit - and can cause severe, burn-like blisters if it comes into contact with the skin.

    This sap contains a range of toxins, but it's thought that the most serious reactions come from phorbol, an organic compound that belongs to the diterpene family of esters.

    Because phorbol is highly water-soluble, you don't even want to be standing under a manchineel when it's raining - the raindrops carrying the diluted sap can still severely burn your skin.

    Because of these horrifying properties, in some parts of the tree's natural range they are painted with a red cross, a red ring of paint, or even paired with explicit warning signs.

    We could just remove them, but they play a valuable role in the local ecosystems - as a large shrub, the manchineel grows into dense thickets that provide excellent windbreaking and a protection against coastal erosion on Central American beaches.

    There have been reports of severe cases of eye inflammation and even temporary blindness causes by the smoke of burning manchineel wood - not to mention the effects of inhaling the stuff.

    However, Caribbean carpenters have been using manchineel wood in furniture for centuries - after carefully cutting it and drying in the sun to neutralise the poisonous sap.

    "The real death threat comes from eating its small round fruit,"Ella Davies writes for the BBC. "Ingesting the fruit can prove fatal when severe vomiting and diarrhoea dehydrate the body to the point of no return."

    Fortunately, Strickland and her friend lived to tell the tale, because they only ate a tiny amount of death apple. In 2000, Strickland published a letter in The British Medical Journal, describing her symptoms in detail.

    It took over 8 hours for their pain to slowly subside, as they carefully sipped piña coladas and milk. The toxin went on to drain into the lymph nodes on their necks, providing further agony.

    "Recounting our experience to the locals elicited frank horror and incredulity, such was the fruit's poisonous reputation," Strickland wrote. "We found our experience frightening."

    UP NEXT: People around the world are eating banana peels because they know something that Westerners do not

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    NOW WATCH: We tried jackfruit — the huge tree fruit that supposedly tastes like pulled pork


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    bp methane gas site

    It has drawn remarkably little attention outside the West Coast, but a massive methane gas leak 25 miles northwest of Los Angeles is wreaking havoc with the community, displacing thousands of families and posing arguably the worst environmental catastrophe since the 2010 BP oil spill along the Gulf Coast.

    The crisis began a little more than two months ago in the quiet community of Porter Ranch with the rupture of a huge underground containment system that holds methane-laden natural gas piped there from extractions hundreds of miles away in Texas, the Rocky Mountains and the Midwest.

    Beleaguered Southern California utility officials say there is no way to staunch the rupture for at least another few months, and meanwhile the gas has been escaping into the air at a rate of nearly 1,300 metric tons a day. The leak already has forced the evacuation of 1,700 homes in nearby neighborhoods, the closing of two schools and widespread reports of residents being sickened by the stench of the gas.

    For a state beset by drought, wildfires, giant sinkholes and other natural calamities, the gas leak has emerged as the number one environmental concern of Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, an aggressive environmentalist who is particularly concerned about combating climate change.

    Aside from the immediate chaos caused by the leak, the longer-term consequences for the environment have shaken government officials, scientists and environmental groups – and could seriously set back the Obama administration’s high profile efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute directly to global warming.

    BP oil spill LouisianaScientists and environmental experts say the Aliso Canyon leak became the biggest single source of methane emissions in all of California practically overnight when it began Oct. 23. Environmentalists say that the impact of the greenhouse gases released since then, when projected out over 20 years, is equal to the emissions from six coal-fired power plants or 7 million cars, according to a recent analysis by The Washington  Post.

    Most worrisome is the fact that it may take Southern California Gas Company, which manages the underground tanks, three to four months to stop the breach while the methane gas continues to surge unabated into the atmosphere. The underground tanks hold billions of cubic feet of natural gas that is stored under high pressure to supply the utility company’s 20 million customers

    By comparison, it took the BP oil company five months to seal an underground well off the coast of Louisiana following a deadly April 2010 explosion on an oil rig -- but not before an estimated 4.9 billion barrels of crude oil escaped into the Gulf of Mexico, killing untold numbers of fish and wildlife and befouling beaches and the water.

    As of this week, the California leak has spewed over 73,000 metric tons of methane gas into the atmosphere, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, which, in cooperation with the nonprofit Earthworks, recently released an aerial video that uses an infrared camera to highlight the gas escape.

    The Environmental Defense Fund is providing real-time updates on the situation.

    Natural gas is often hailed as a cleaner burning energy source than coal or oil because of the lower greenhouse gas emissions associated with burning it, notes the online publication Gizmodo. But as scientists warn, natural gas can prove to be as dirty as the fossil fuels it was meant to replace under certain conditions.

    Indeed, methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with up to 80 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide in the first two decades of its lifespan. “The science is crystal clear: if you allow the methane to leak, you can wipe out its climate benefits,” Tim O’Connor, director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Oil and Gas Program in California, told Gizmodo.

    methane gas leak"SoCal Gas recognizes the impact this incident is having on the environment," company chief executive Dennis Arriola said in a letter to the governor earlier this month. "I want to assure the public that we intend to mitigate environmental impacts from the actual natural gas released from the leak and will work with state officials to develop a framework that will help us achieve this goal."

    So what to do?

    After several failed efforts at stopping the leak, the utility company has begun drilling relief wells that would allow it to seal off the gas by pumping cement underground.

    SoCal Gas has said that work to plug the well may not be complete until late March – but others worry it could take longer. Over the weekend, SoCal Gas reported that it has drilled about 3,800 feet toward the target well, and that it is beginning work to drill a second, backup relief well.

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Keeping fit in your 20s can lead to better memory and thinking skills in middle age


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    Flint City Councilman Eric Mays demands action to hold state government responsible to further aid the city after Genesee County board Chairman Jamie Curtis endorsed Flint Mayor Karen Weaver's request for a federal disaster declaration on Monday, Jan. 4, 2016. Plans are moving forward to seek more help handling problems with Flint's water system. (Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP) LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; LOCAL INTERNET OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT

    DETROIT (AP) — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in Flint on Tuesday over problems with lead in the city's drinking water, the same day federal officials confirmed they're investigating the matter that prompted a local public health emergency.

    Snyder's action follows emergency declarations by the city and Genesee County, which requested help from the state. Michigan's declaration makes available state resources in cooperation with local response and recovery operations.

    U.S. attorney's spokeswoman Gina Balaya said in an email that the federal investigation is "an effort to address the concerns of Flint residents," but she couldn't say whether it is a criminal or civil investigation.

    The city switched from Detroit's water system to Flint River water in a cost-cutting move in 2014, while under state financial management. That was intended as a temporary step while a pipeline was built from Lake Huron.

    Residents complained about the water's taste, smell and appearance, and children were found to have elevated levels of lead due to the water supply. Exposure to lead can cause behavior problems and learning disabilities in children.

    The city returned to Detroit water in October.

    Officials say the state will use its own resources during the emergency, but Snyder could request federal help if Michigan is unable to handle demands.

    Last week, Snyder apologized and Michigan's top environmental regulator resigned after a task force created by Snyder blamed problems on his agency. Administration officials have pledged to cooperate fully with any federal requests.

    The state initially downplayed lead concerns but ultimately had to commit $10.6 million to reconnect Flint to Detroit and to respond with filters, testing and other services.

    The city's request for a disaster declaration includes roughly $50 million in aid, most of which is taken up by $45 million to replace 15,000 lead service lines — "one of the most cost-intensive endeavors related to ameliorating water contaminants" in its system, according to the application. It also seeks $2 million in reimbursement costs for reconnecting to Detroit's system.

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    After months of warning, the first major storm of this year's highly anticipated monster El Niño began hammering the West Coast on Sunday. The storm brought a torrential downpour of rain that continued to grow stronger through Tuesday, pummeling areas across California with up to nearly 2.5 inches of rain.

    El Niño is a global climate phenomenon driven by warming temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, particularly along the equator. The conditions come and go every few years, but do not follow a regular pattern.

    On Tuesday, the El Niño storm set record rainfalls for that day in various areas across California, including the Los Angeles International Airport and places north of Stockton and Redding, the LA Times reported. This guy got caught in the middle of it:

    el ninoLuckily, as of Wednesday, no Los Angeles roads have been closed, despite flooding on several roadways and a small rock slide that damaged four vehicles along the Pacific Coast Highway. That's thanks to the preparation efforts of city officials.

    "We have been working for months on this," Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told the LA Times. "Today is the day that it is here."

    el ninoRight now, most of the rain is slamming the southwestern coast of California, as revealed in the map below of the country's next 24-hour precipitation.

    California is clearly the wettest region in the country right now where some areas can expect as much as 3 to 4 more inches by this time tomorrow:

    fill_94qwbgAnd the rain isn't expected to let up any time soon. LA should see a sunny break by Friday, but the relief will be short-lived. Another wave of precipitation is expected to hit the city on Saturday.

    But heavy rains and flooding are just the beginning for what El Niño has in store for us. Meteorologists expect that El Niño conditions will help bring in another warm year, which could become the hottest on record.

    Moreover, El Niño generally brings more tropical storms and hurricanes to the eastern Pacific. And with evidence showing that climate change is increasing the intensity of these types of storms, we can expect nastier things than floods and rock slides in the coming months.

    UP NEXT: Humans are getting a first glimpse of the tall sand dunes on Mars, and the photos are brilliant

    SEE ALSO: Dietitians, nutritionists, and food psychologists got together and ranked the best diets of 2016 — here's their top 10

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    NOW WATCH: 2015-2016 WINTER OUTLOOK: The expected impact of El Niño on weather across the US


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    pro-fracking fracking shale oil protest

    A new study in the journal Nature published on Wednesday confirms an opinion long held by experts: that chemicals in fracking fluids and wastewater can pose serious risks for reproductive and developmental health. 

    This comes on the heels of a Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology study from October, which first analyzed the connection between the toxicity of solids dissolved in fracking fluids and changes in the cells of mammals.

    The authors of that study found elevated levels of harmful barium and strontium (metallic chemical elements) in cells exposed to the fracking fluid and wastewater, which were linked to the growth of malignant tumors. 

    The new study, in Nature, takes this one step further, by analyzing 240 of the known chemicals in fracking fluids. The evidence they found is shocking: 43% of the analyzed chemicals have reproductive toxicity, and are linked to problems including birth defects, infertility, reduced semen quality, and miscarriages. And 40% of the analyzed chemicals pose problems for developmental health, which can stunt fetal development and may cause premature or delayed sexual development later in life. 

    Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a method used to release oil and natural gas from tight rock formations deep underground. Fluids are injected deep into the earth at pressures high enough to fracture the rock surrounding the oil and natural gas deposits, allowing the fuel a clear path to the surface. 

    The fluids — toxic slurries of water and volatile organic compounds like benzene — are the primary cause of health impacts when they leach into groundwater supplies used for drinking due to improper storage, disposal, or work-site accidents. 

    It's a crucial sticking point for an industry that's had massively positive economic impacts across the U.S.

    An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report on fracking safety released this past June that first looked at the effects of fracking fluid on drinking water found that the amount of contaminated drinking water wells was slight when compared with the overall number of fracked wells. 

    fracking

    However, the EPA study does admit that insufficient long-term data on pre and post fracking water quality could have limited their results.

    The Nature study, then, plays a critical role by highlighting exactly which chemicals in fracking fluids and wastewater are harmful. This will allow the EPA and other regulatory agencies to include these toxic chemicals in future analyses, and ultimately create up-to-date safe drinking water standards in fracking areas. 

    Though the hydraulic fracking industry is seen as a boon for American energy production, it's had a tough year. From numerous reports of earthquakes in Oklahoma, to the methane-spewing fields of West Texas, it's evident that we need more research to get a better understanding of fracking's negative health impacts. 

    SEE ALSO: Why fracking is like tiramisu

    DON'T MISS: The 10 scariest chemicals used in hydraulic fracking

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    fracking

    An Environmental Protection Agency report released in June on the impacts of fracking on water quality is now being called into question — by none other than the agency's own scientists.  

    The report initially did not find "widespread, systemic impacts" on drinking water resources close to fracking sites. But the EPA's Science Advisory Board responded in December, after the report was released, that "major findings are ambiguous or inconsistent with the observations/data presented in this report," according to Bloomberg

    The controversy rests on one key aspect of the report's findings. It states that the "...number of identified cases [of contaminated wells], however, was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells."

    While this may be accurate, the report goes on to admit that insufficient long-term data on pre and post fracking water quality could have limited their results, and may not explicitly point to the "rarity of effects on drinking water resources."

    It's this paucity of information that gives some of the reviewing scientists pause: "I do not think that the document’s authors have gone far enough to emphasize how preliminary these key conclusions are and how limited the factual bases are for their judgments," James Bruckner, a member of the Science Advisory Board, told Bloomberg

    Members of the Science Advisory Board, as well as environmental advocates, are also pushing the EPA to include more detailed analysis of the severity of alleged instances of contamination near drilling sites. 

    Though the Board's recommendations aren't binding, the EPA will "evaluate" possible changes to the report, according to Bloomberg

    Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a method used to release oil and natural gas from tight rock formations deep underground. Fluids are injected deep into the earth at pressures high enough to fracture the rock surrounding the oil and natural gas deposits, allowing the fuel a clear path to the surface. 

    The fluids — toxic slurries of water and volatile organic compounds like benzene — are the primary cause of health impacts when they leach into groundwater supplies used for drinking due to improper storage, disposal, or work-site accidents. 

    The Independent Petroleum Association of America responded to Business Insider with the following statement, backing up the EPA's original findings and asserting that any revisions were due to pressure from anti-fracking groups:

    To be clear, there is nothing ambiguous about EPA’s finding. The terms “widespread” and “systemic” are clearly defined and unequivocal. EPA even offers more clarity, noting that while there were some instances of water impacts (not from the process of hydraulic fracturing itself, but from related activities, such as well casing failures or fluid spills on the surface), the number of these instances “was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells."

    There is nothing in the draft report from a “scientific and technical” standpoint that suggests EPA’s finding of no “widespread, systemic” groundwater impacts from hydraulic fracturing is incorrect. As a result, we urge the SAB [EPA Scientific Advisory Board] to maintain its role as a scientific body by rejecting calls to change its scientific findings, which are based on political campaigns, not scientific analyses or technical reviews.

    SEE ALSO: People are spending up to $100 a bottle for an unlikely beverage

    SEE ALSO: Russia's oil-price headache is only getting worse

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    NOW WATCH: If you think China's air is bad, you should see the water


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    The Los Angeles town of Porter Ranch is officially under a state of emergency because of a major natural gas leak.

    California Gov. Jerry Brown issued the declaration Jan. 6, 2016, nearly 11 weeks after the massive underground leak of methane sprung on Oct. 23, 2015. Southern California Gas Company, which owns the gas resevoir, says its workers can't plug the gusher until March.

    A whopping 160 million pounds of methane has poured into the sky, UC Davis scientist Stephen Conley said in a Jan. 7 press release.

    Methane is a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide, yet it is capable of warming the planet tens, hundreds, or even thousands of times more efficiently.

    "[T]he leak effectively doubles the emission rate for the entire Los Angeles Basin," Conley said in a press release. "On a global scale, this is big."

    Here's the impact the leak has had on the environment, in terms of its "carbon dioxide equivalent," so far.

    TI_Graphics_methane emissions

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: This massive Los Angeles county gas leak is spewing 110,000 pounds of methane an hour


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    pulses

    Superfoods are gaining popularity—and for good reason.

    They directly support the immune system, reduce inflammation, support mental health, pack a nutritional punchand boost energy, stamina and longevity.

    Here are eight superfoods to watch in 2016 that are not only good for you, but also good for the planet:

    SEE ALSO: 17 'healthy habits' you're better off giving up

    CHECK OUT: This 'superfood' will change the way we live this year

    1. Crickets

    Crickets are loaded with protein. They also “thrive in hotter climates and survive off decaying waste and very little water and space,” Mother Jones reported. For this reason, crickets and other insects have been hailed as the “next climate-friendly superfood.” They can be ground into baking flour or protein powder, and added to cookies, brownies or milkshakes.

    While eating crickets—or any type of insect for that matter—hasn’t completely caught on in the U.S., it’s making progress. Last year, fast food chain Wayback Burgers put out a fake press release as an April Fool’s joke about insect-filled milkshakes, but the idea was so popular that they rolled out their Oreo Mud Pie Cricket Protein Milkshake.

     



    2. Pulses

    They’re the dried seeds of lentils, beans and chickpeas—and the UN has declared 2016 to be their year. They already make up 75 percent of the average diet in developing countries, but only 25 percent in developed ones, according to the UN.

    That could all change, though. Pulses contain 20 to 25 percent protein by weight, approaching the protein levels of meat, which average 30 to 40 percent. They also require far less water than meat to produce.



    3. Amaranth

    “Amaranth is the new quinoa,” trend expert Daniel Levine told The Huffington Post. It’s a grain-like seed that cooks quickly and can be added to salads, soups and stews.

    It’s a complete source of protein just like quinoa, and it is loaded with fiber, B vitamins and several important minerals. Additionally, it’s been shown to reduce inflammation, and lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    crowd

    OSLO (Reuters) — The indelible imprint left by human beings on Earth has become so clear that it justifies naming a new geological epoch after mankind, experts said on Thursday.

    The dawn of the "Anthropocene" would signal the end of the Holocene epoch, considered to have begun 11,700 years ago at the end of the Ice Age. The new term, suggested in 2000, is based on the Greek word "anthropos", meaning "man".

    “Human activity is leaving a pervasive and persistent signature on Earth,” said a report in the journal Science by an international team led by Colin Waters of the British Geological Survey.

    “We are becoming a geological agent in ourselves,” Waters told Reuters.

    The start date could be around the mid-20th century, the authors wrote.

    They said the atomic age, starting with a bomb test in New Mexico in the United States on July 16, 1945, and the post-war leap in mining, industry, farming and use of manmade materials such as concrete or plastics all left geological traces.

    Concrete, invented by the Romans, was now so ubiquitous that it would amount to one kg (2.2 lbs) for every square meter (11 sq feet) of the planet's surface if spread out evenly, they said.

    Any formal recommendation to adopt the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch would require years of extra research, partly to pin down a start date, Waters said.

    Some experts reckon the Anthropocene began with Europe's Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. Others would give it a more widespread origin, dating it from the spread of agriculture several thousand years ago.

    "Any definition will inform the stories that we tell about human development," said Professor Simon Lewis of University College London, who was not involved in the study. He favors 1610 as a start date, marking the spread of colonialism, disease and trade to the Americas from Europe.

    Erle Ellis of the University of Maryland, a co-author of the study released on Thursday, said pinning down the Anthropocene would transform understanding of humanity's role on the planet.

    He said it was a "challenge no smaller than a second Copernican revolution". In the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus helped show the Earth rotates around the sun.

     

    RELATED: How Earth entered a new epoch on July 16, 1945

    NEXT: 16 potentially deadly volcanoes that could erupt any minute

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    coal plant

    A new material made from microscopic layers of cobalt can convert carbon dioxide gas into formate - a fuel that can be burned with no toxic byproducts and used as a clean energy source.

    Developed by a team of researchers in China, the material could be one way to deal with the 36 gigatonnes of CO2 we release into the atmosphere each year due to fossil fuel use.

    Scientists have been struggling for decades to come up with an energy-efficient way to transform CO2 into something useful, and early testing points to this new material as being one of the most promising options we’ve seen so far.

    "This represents a fundamental scientific breakthrough," Karthish Manthiram, a chemical engineer from the California Institute of Technology who was not involved in the research, told William Herkewitz at Popular Mechanics. 

    "Certainly it will be a years-long process before this is worked into a successful, commercial device. But at this stage of development, by all conceivable metrics, this reaction looks very positive."

    The material is just four atoms thick, and is made up of ultra-thin layers of pure cobalt metal and a cobalt oxide-cobalt metal mix. When it undergoes the process of electroreduction, which involves feeding a small electric current through the material to change the molecular structure of the CO2 inside, it produces a fuel that can provide more energy than it took to create.

    As Herkewitz explains, when an electric current is applied to the cobalt nanomaterial, it causes the molecules inside the material to interact with the CO2 molecules that are running freely through it. 

    This causes hydrogen atoms to attach to carbon atoms from the CO2, prompting an extra electron to be propelled into one of its oxygen atoms. "With that, the CO2 becomes CHOO-, or formate,"he says.

    Lab tests with the material confirmed that it can maintain"stable current densities of about 10 milliamperes [of formate] per square centimetre over 40 hours, with approximately 90 percent formate selectivity at an overpotential of only 0.24 volts".

    I know you want to, but don’t freak out about what all that actually means just yet.

    This "overpotential" is the amount of energy lost due to the slowness of electrochemical reactions sustained by electrodes such as this one. The smaller the overpotential, the better, but in order to make something efficient, it has to maintain that small overpotential while also keeping the rate of fuel production up. This is where many attempts at CO2 electroreduction have fallen short in the past.

    Manthiram, who is himself working on his own CO2 electroreduction solutions, told Popular Mechanics that not only can this new material sustain that low overpotential while also achieving a high rate of formate production, it manages to keep everything stable too. "It's very rare and difficult to find a material that satisfies all three of those constraints,"he said, adding that this material is "the best we've seen" so far.

    The team, from China's Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences, describes the material in the journal Nature. The next step will be to demonstrate how it can be incorporated into commercial technology so we can start using up some of the CO2 that's floating around in our atmosphere, causing trouble

    SEE ALSO: Giant fans that suck carbon dioxide straight out of the air could help us fight global warming

    CHECK OUT: 15 ways the world will be terrifying in 2050

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    NOW WATCH: Why hydrogen bombs are so much more powerful than atomic bombs


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    2015 was a captivating year in science.

    We reached Pluto, the world agreed to a landmark climate deal in Paris, and private spaceflight hit its stride. Many of this year's events have created amazing images, including the one below, of Pluto, with psychedelic false colors representing its surface textures.

    psychedelic plutoCheck out 50 of our favorite science images from this year below.

    After 9 years, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft finally reached Pluto, and the images it beamed back, like this natural color image of Pluto, took our planet by storm.



    Private spaceflight reached new heights this year. The dueling companies — Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origins — both had a few hiccups during takeoff and landing of their rockets this year.

    Sources: SpaceX's 'reusable rocket' just exploded to bits — but the company says it's going to push forward anyway, SpaceX was unsuccessful in its historic attempt to land a rocket, Watch the incredible first test flight of Jeff Bezos's mysterious new rocket



    But Blue Origins launched its reusable, suborbital rocket 62 miles above the Earth and successfully landed it back in Texas in November.

    Source: Jeff Bezos just made history by launching and landing a reusable rocket



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    asteroid slooh pitbull

    December's weather has been pretty much apocalyptic in some parts of the world. Huge parts of Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, and the UK have been heavily hit by floods.

    Add to this the devastating, unseasonal tornadoes in Texas, and the crazily high temperatures of the US East Coast and in continental Europe.

    Man-made climate change is starting to take its toll, and the world will soon officially have warmed up by 1 degree Celsius since 1900, causing massive changes to our planet. 

    There's also the rise of Islamic State, and increasing tensions between Russia and Turkey after the latter shot down a Russian military plane in November. All in all, the world is in a bit of trouble.

    Humanity has already survived a financial crisis, and warnings of the Mayan Apocalypse in the past decade, but if 2016 is the year the world does finally start to collapse, we think you should know where to head to survive.

    We have selected places that we expect will remain fortresses of stability, safety, and prosperity no matter what the world throws at them.

     

    SEE ALSO: 2015 will mark a 'symbolic and significant milestone' for Earth in the worst way possible

    Iceland

    Iceland is by far the most isolated country in Europe, located hundreds of miles from any other land, making it tricky for any potential invaders to get to.

    The country is also awash with useful resources for staying alive. It is powered almost entirely by geothermal energy from the country's many active volcanoes, and its coastal waters have some of the best and most abundant seafood anywhere in the world. So in the event of having to hole out on the island for a long time, you can rely on being warm and well fed.

    Iceland also survived a near total collapse of its banking system during the financial crisis, so you know its citizens are pretty resilient, essential if the end of the world does come.



    Tristan da Cunha

    This island chain in the south Atlantic is actually the world's most remote inhabited archipelago, more than 2,000 kilometers from the nearest land. The population is just over 300, so we're sure they're looking for new residents. It's known for excellent fishing — the perfect career if times were to get really bad.



    Guam

    This is one for American patriots, who can take refuge in this far-flung outpost of America. Guam is situated in the Pacific, and it is home to a massive American military presence, perfect for keeping people safe in the event that Russian-Turkish relations go downhill and we find ourselves in the middle of World War III.

    Guam isn't exactly home to a booming economy, however, with most of its income coming from tourists and the US government.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Broken asteroid dinosaur belt

    A meteorite fragment believed to be older than Earth itself has been discovered in Australia, and it almost washed away before scientists had a chance to get to it.

    The recovery operation involved a network of 32 remote camera observatories, a mass of complicated geographical calculations, an aerial spotter, a remotely operated drone, two human searchers, and a whole lot of luck.

    It all began on 27 November 2015, when the fragment was hurtled down to Earth's surface from space.

    Locals in the William Creek and Marree areas of South Australia witnessed its descent, and it was also spotted by the Desert Fireball Network (DFN) - a series of linked digital cameras that monitor the skies above the outback and look for traces of incoming meteorites.

    Once the rock had been spotted, the race was on to find it.

    After some image analysis, triangulation, and other calculations, the search began in earnest around the Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre area - the lowest natural point in Australia - on December 29. An unmanned drone and a manned light aircraft were used to guide DFN team members, Phil Bland and Robert Howie from Curtin University, to the correct spot, with the assistance of a local search party.

    Three days into the search, they found it: a 1.7-kg (3.7-lb) rock embedded in thick salt lake mud, some 42 cm (16.5 inches) below the surface.

    outback meteor_1024If the researchers had been a few days later, heavy rains would've washed away the rock for good.

    According to its discoverers, the meteorite fragment is a chondrite or stony meteorite that they estimate to be more than 4.5 billion years old - not a bad innings when you consider that Earth itself has been around for about that amount of time.

    "It was an amazing team effort - we got there by the skin of our teeth,"said Bland.

    Not only is it an exciting geological discovery that should eventually teach us more about the origins of the Universe, it's a huge boost for the founders of the Desert Fireball Network scheme.

    "This meteorite is of special significance as the camera observations used to calculate the fall positions have also enabled the solar system orbit of the meteorite to be calculated, giving important contextual information for future study,"added Bland."It demonstrates beyond doubt that this giant machine that we've built really works."

    The researchers believe the rock came from somewhere between Mars and Jupiter, and now the serious work of studying the object can begin.

    "The fact we have managed to retrieve the meteorite at all is remarkable,"said Bland's colleague, Jonathan Paxman. "Our people worked around the clock to reduce the data, enabling rapid recovery of something that would have been lost if we'd gotten there any later."

    UP NEXT: 'This is going to be a mission that's one of the best that NASA has ever done'

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    california drought

    The fragile state of the world's food supplies has become increasingly apparent in recent years, as extreme weather events have been linked to spikes in commodity prices and food riots, bringing into sharp focus the threat of climate change.

    Now, researchers say they have a much better quantitative understanding of the role of extreme weather in disruptions in food supply — and their conclusions are raising eyebrows.

    Looking at cereals such as wheat, rice, maize, and barley between 1964 and 2007, researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC), University of Sussex, and McGill University found that droughts and heat waves reduced global production up to 10 percent. In contrast, the researchers found little or no impact on production from either cold weather spells or floods.

    The worst effects of these weather disasters were in the developed world with the hardest hit regions in Australia, North America, and Europe. Production levels in North America, Europe, and the islands of Australia, New Zealand, and New Guinea dropped by an average of 19.9 percent because of droughts — roughly double the global average.

    "We have always known that extreme weather causes crop production losses," said UBC's Navin Ramankutty. "But until now we did not know exactly how much global production was lost to such extreme weather events, and how they varied by different regions of the world."

    California drought

    Ramankutty and his colleagues concluded that heat and drought had a greater impact than floods and cold mostly because of timing. A deep freeze or a snowstorm, they suggest, typically occurs outside the growing season, while floods are most common in the spring just as crops are being planted.

    A drought or heat wave, though, strikes when farmers are ready to harvest their crops and are often "large-scale events."

    "Our hypothesis is that extreme heat and droughts happen at the peak of your growing season," Ramankutty said. "Think about a temperate growing season. We plant in the spring. The plant grows. It matures. Right when it matures and you have full grain and you're in mid-summer, you have extreme heat or a drought."

    The developed world seems more susceptible, they said, partly because rich countries are more inclined to produce a narrow number of commodities on an industrial scale, compared to a wide range of crops planted by a larger number of individual farmers in the developing world.

    "Across the breadbaskets of North America, the crops and methods of farming are very uniform across huge areas. So if a drought hits in a way that is damaging to those crops, they will all suffer," said McGill University's Corey Lesk. "By contrast, in much of the developing world, crop systems are a patchwork of small fields with diverse crops. If a drought hits, some of those crops may be damaged, but others may survive."

    Another factor, the researchers said, might be that farmers in the developing world are inclined to avoid risk compared to their richer counterparts in the West.

    "Farmers in developed world have access to crop insurance and price support schemes. They don't have an incentive to worry about climate shocks," Ramankutty said. "Developing countries farmers typically don't have these price support schemes. They tend to choose risk-minimization strategies. They are much more interested in having stable yields rather than high yields … so they are more resilient in that sense."

    Pedram Rowhan of the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK worked with Ramankutty and Lesk on the study. Their findings were published in the journal Nature.

    But Stephan Baas, an advisor to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, took issue with the study's conclusion that floods had only a minor effect on production and that rich nations suffered the most.

    "We think this is fundamentally the opposite," he said. "It's wrong."

    "Our perspective is clearly that it's developing countries that suffer most, not because their losses are the highest," he said. "The losses may be higher in developed countries but the overall economic damage as compared to other sectors is much lower."

    In other words, in Africa or Asia, where agriculture might account for 30 percent of GDP, the impact might be greater than a country like Germany, where the dollar amount of damages to the sector might be higher, but account for a much smaller share of the country's overall economy.

    While current hits to production are up to 10 percent, Ramankutty worries that a few years down the road that might rise to 12 or 15 percent, which he called "serious."

    "It might not affect total production capacity globally in the sense that we have grain reserves and so on," he said. "But what it might do is, what has happened previously, which is that when some of these extreme events happen and they happen in multiple places simultaneously, food prices might go up and that then effects food security."

    SEE ALSO: This 10-second graphic puts California's drought into terrifying perspective

    CHECK OUT: A Los Angeles resident powered through enough water for nearly 100 homes — and the city won't name him

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    NOW WATCH: The weather forecast for 2016 is terrifying


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