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The latest news on Environment from Business Insider
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    glacier crack

    • The Pine Island glaciers and the Thwaites glacier are steadily moving toward the Amundsen Sea as they collapse due to global warming.
    • The glaciers act as a dam because they hold back enough ice that could cause sea levels to rise by a catastrophic 11 feet.
    • This could happen between in 20 to 50 years leading to the destruction of every coastal city.
    • Other glaciers around the world will be vulnerable as well.


    This story originally appeared on Grist.

    In a remote region of Antarctica known as Pine Island Bay, 2,500 miles from the tip of South America, two glaciers hold human civilization hostage.

    Stretching across a frozen plain more than 150 miles long, these glaciers, named Pine Island and Thwaites, have marched steadily for millennia toward the Amundsen Sea, part of the vast Southern Ocean. Further inland, the glaciers widen into a two-mile-thick reserve of ice covering an area the size of Texas.

    There's no doubt this ice will melt as the world warms. The vital question is when.

    The glaciers of Pine Island Bay are two of the largest and fastest-melting in Antarctica. (A Rolling Stone feature earlier this year dubbed Thwaites "The Doomsday Glacier.") Together, they act as a plug holding back enough ice to pour 11 feet of sea-level rise into the world's oceans — an amount that would submerge every coastal city on the planet. For that reason, finding out how fast these glaciers will collapse is one of the most important scientific questions in the world today.

    To figure that out, scientists have been looking back to the end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago, when global temperatures stood at roughly their current levels. The bad news? There's growing evidence that the Pine Island Bay glaciers collapsed rapidly back then, flooding the world's coastlines — partially the result of something called "marine ice-cliff instability."

    The ocean floor gets deeper toward the center of this part of Antarctica, so each new iceberg that breaks away exposes taller and taller cliffs. Ice gets so heavy that these taller cliffs can't support their own weight.

    Once they start to crumble, the destruction would be unstoppable

    "Ice is only so strong, so it will collapse if these cliffs reach a certain height," explains Kristin Poinar, a glaciologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "We need to know how fast it's going to happen."

    In the past few years, scientists have identified marine ice-cliff instability as a feedback loop that could kickstart the disintegration of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet this century — much more quickly than previously thought.

    Minute-by-minute, huge skyscraper-sized shards of ice cliffs would crumble into the sea, as tall as the Statue of Liberty and as deep underwater as the height of the Empire State Building. The result: a global catastrophe the likes of which we've never seen.

    Ice comes in many forms, with different consequences when it melts. Floating ice, like the kind that covers the Arctic Ocean in wintertime and comprises ice shelves, doesn't raise sea levels. (Think of a melting ice cube, which won't cause a drink to spill over.)

    Land-based ice, on the other hand, is much more troublesome. When it falls into the ocean, it adds to the overall volume of liquid in the seas. Thus, sea-level rise.

    NASA's DC-8 flies across a crack, 18 miles (29 km) in length, forming across the Pine Island Glacier ice shelf in this October 26, 2011 handout photograph. REUTERS/NASA/GSFC/Jefferson Beck/Handout

    Antarctica is a giant landmass — about half the size of Africa — and the ice that covers it averages more than a mile thick. Before human burning of fossil fuels triggered global warming, the continent's ice was in relative balance: The snows in the interior of the continent roughly matched the icebergs that broke away from glaciers at its edges.

    Now, as carbon dioxide traps more heat in the atmosphere and warms the planet, the scales have tipped.

    A wholesale collapse of Pine Island and Thwaites would set off a catastrophe. Giant icebergs would stream away from Antarctica like a parade of frozen soldiers. All over the world, high tides would creep higher, slowly burying every shoreline on the planet, flooding coastal cities and creating hundreds of millions of climate refugees.

    All this could play out in a mere 20 to 50 years — much too quickly for humanity to adapt

    "With marine ice cliff instability, sea-level rise for the next century is potentially much larger than we thought it might be five or 10 years ago," Poinar says.

    A lot of this newfound concern is driven by the research of two climatologists: Rob DeConto at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and David Pollard at Penn State University. A study they published last year was the first to incorporate the latest understanding of marine ice-cliff instability into a continent-scale model of Antarctica.

    Their results drove estimates for how high the seas could rise this century sharply higher.

    "Antarctic model raises the prospect of unstoppable ice collapse," read the headline in the scientific journal Nature, a publication not known for hyperbole.

    Instead of a three-foot increase in ocean levels by the end of the century, six feet was more likely, according to DeConto and Pollard's findings. But if carbon emissions continue to track on something resembling a worst-case scenario, the full 11 feet of ice locked in West Antarctica might be freed up, their study showed.

    Three feet of sea-level rise would be bad, leading to more frequent flooding of U.S. cities such as New Orleans, Houston, New York, and Miami. Pacific Island nations, like the Marshall Islands, would lose most of their territory. Unfortunately, it now seems like three feet is possible only under the rosiest of scenarios.

    At six feet, though, around 12 million people in the United States would be displaced, and the world's most vulnerable megacities, like Shanghai, Mumbai, and Ho Chi Minh City, could be wiped off the map.

    At 11 feet, land currently inhabited by hundreds of millions of people worldwide would wind up underwater.

    Twice-a-month Hurricane Sandys

    South Florida would be largely uninhabitable; floods on the scale of Hurricane Sandy would strike twice a month in New York and New Jersey, as the tug of the moon alone would be enough to send tidewaters into homes and buildings.

    DeConto and Pollard's breakthrough came from trying to match observations of ancient sea levels at shorelines around the world with current ice sheet behavior.

    Around 3 million years ago, when global temperatures were about as warm as they're expected to be later this century, oceans were dozens of feet higher than today.

    Previous models suggested that it would take hundreds or thousands of years for sea-level rise of that magnitude to occur. But once they accounted for marine ice-cliff instability, DeConto and Pollard's model pointed toward a catastrophe if the world maintains a "business as usual" path — meaning we don't dramatically reduce carbon emissions.

    Rapid cuts in greenhouse gases, however, showed Antarctica remaining almost completely intact for hundreds of years.


    Pollard and DeConto are the first to admit that their model is still crude, but its results have pushed the entire scientific community into emergency mode.

    The entire scientific community is in emergency mode

    "It could happen faster or slower, I don't think we really know yet," says Jeremy Bassis, a leading ice sheet scientist at the University of Michigan. "But it's within the realm of possibility, and that's kind of a scary thing."

    Scientists used to think that ice sheets could take millennia to respond to changing climates. These are, after all, mile-thick chunks of ice.

    The new evidence, though, says that once a certain temperature threshold is reached, ice shelves of glaciers that extend into the sea, like those near Pine Island Bay, will begin to melt from both above and below, weakening their structure and hastening their demise, and paving the way for ice-cliff instability to kick in.

    In a new study out last month in the journal Nature, a team of scientists from Cambridge and Sweden point to evidence from thousands of scratches left by ancient icebergs on the ocean floor, indicating that Pine Island's glaciers shattered in a relatively short amount of time at the end of the last ice age.

    The only place in the world where you can see ice-cliff instability in action today is at Jakobshavn glacier in Greenland, one of the fastest-collapsing glaciers in the world. DeConto says that to construct their model, they took the collapse rate of Jakobshavn, cut it in half to be extra conservative, then applied it to Thwaites and Pine Island.

    thwaites glacier

    But there's reason to think Thwaites and Pine Island could go even faster than Jakobshavn.

    Right now, there's a floating ice shelf protecting the two glaciers, helping to hold back the flow of ice into the sea. But recent examples from other regions, like the rapidly collapsing Larsen B ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula, show that once ice shelves break apart as a result of warming, their parent glaciers start to flow faster toward the sea, an effect that can weaken the stability of ice further inland, too.

    "If you remove the ice shelf, there's a potential that not just ice-cliff instabilities will start occurring, but a process called marine ice-sheet instabilities," says Matthew Wise, a polar scientist at the University of Cambridge.

    This signals the possible rapid destabilization of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet in this century.

    "Once the stresses exceed the strength of the ice," Wise says, "it just falls off."

    And, it's not just Pine Island Bay. On our current course, other glaciers around Antarctica will be similarly vulnerable. And then there's Greenland, which could contribute as much as 20 feet of sea-level rise if it melts.

    Next to a meteor strike, rapid sea-level rise from collapsing ice cliffs is one of the quickest ways our world can remake itself.

    This is about as fast as climate change gets

    Still, some scientists aren't fully convinced the alarm is warranted. Ted Scambos, a lead scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado, says the new research by Wise and his colleagues, which identified ice-cliff instabilities in Pine Island Bay 11,000 years ago, is "tantalizing evidence." But he says that research doesn't establish how quickly it happened.

    "There's a whole lot more to understand if we're going to use this mechanism to predict how far Thwaites glacier and the other glaciers are going to retreat," he says. "The question boils down to, what are the brakes on this process?"

    Scambos thinks it is unlikely that Thwaites or Pine Island would collapse all at once. For one thing, if rapid collapse did happen, it would produce a pile of icebergs that could act like a temporary ice shelf, slowing down the rate of retreat.

    Despite the differences of opinion, however, there's growing agreement within the scientific community that we need to do much more to determine the risk of rapid sea-level rise. In 2015, the U.S. and U.K. governments began to plan a rare and urgent joint research program to study Thwaites glacier. Called "How much, how fast?," the effort is set to begin early next year and run for five years.

    Seeing the two governments pooling their resources is "really a sign of the importance of research like this," NASA's Poinar says.

    Given what's at stake, the research program at Thwaites isn't enough, but it might be the most researchers can get. "Realistically, it's probably all that can be done in the next five years in the current funding environment," says Pollard.

    He's referring, of course, to the Trump administration's disregard for science and adequate scientific funding; the White House's 2018 budget proposal includes the first-ever cut to the National Science Foundation, which typically funds research in Antarctica.

    "It would be sensible to put a huge effort into this, from my perspective," Pollard says. Structural engineers need to study Antarctica's key glaciers as though they were analyzing a building, he says, probing for weak spots and understanding how exactly they might fail. "If you vastly increase the research now, [the cost] would still be trivial compared to the losses that might happen."

    SEE ALSO: Glacier National Park is seeing record-breaking crowds because of climate change

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Here’s why your jeans have that tiny front pocket

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    Bears Ears National Monument

    • President Trump's administration is shrinking Bears Ears National Monument by up to 92%, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by half.
    • It will be the largest reduction of a national monument to date.
    • The Navajo tribe has vowed to fight the decision in court.


    President Donald Trump on Monday will announce the reduction of two national monuments in Utah: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

    Trump plans to shrink the amount of protected land in Bears Ears by 77%-92%, in what will be the largest reduction of a national monument to date. His administration plans to cut Grand Staircase-Escalante in half, according to The New York Times. The push was led in part by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. 

    Bears Ears was declared a National Monument by former President Barack Obama in 2016. The area is sacred to the local Navajo tribes. Hatch, a longtime opponent of the monument, criticized Obama's decision to protect the area as a "federal land grab."

    The monument has been a flashpoint in an ongoing fight between environmentalists who want the land protected, and fossil fuel companies and many rural Westerners, who say the creation of the monuments was a federal overreach and has stifled local economic control. 

    The Navajo, along with environmental groups and a coalition of local tribes, have vowed to fight Trump's decision in court. 

    National Monuments are designated by US presidents under the Antiquities Act, which gives them the power to set aside public land for conservation. Former President Theodore Roosevelt signed the act into law in 1906 and used it to protect Muir Woods and the Grand Canyon (which has since become a national park), along with 16 other areas. 

    While each monument is subject to its own rules, most don't allow any motorized vehicles and forbid using the land for mining or drilling operations. 

    Obama used the Antiquities Act to protect more than 550 million acres throughout his time in office, significantly more than any of his predecessors. 

    The chart below shows how many national monuments various US presidents created under the Antiquities Act:

    National Monuments designated by president_02

    In April, Trump signed an executive order instructing Zinke to review 27 national monuments created since 1996, arguing that previous protections should be reconsidered. Zinke recommended reducing six of the monuments and has pushed for allowing activities like logging and fishing that currently aren't allowed.

    Unlike national parks, which are created through Congress, national monuments are designated by US presidents. Trump isn't the first president to shrink a national monument, though the courts haven't ruled on whether presidents actually have the power to shrink monuments. A future legal decision could impact protected lands across the country. 

    The chart below shows the nine presidents who protected the most land during their time in office. Barack Obama and George W. Bush lead the ranking, though much of the acreage they protected is in the ocean.

    Obama created and expanded several massive marine national monuments in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and banned drilling for oil and gas in nearly all US waters in the Arctic Ocean. 

    National Monuments designated by president_acreage_02

    SEE ALSO: Here are all the protected lands at risk of shrinking or changing under the Trump administration

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: There’s a live supervolcano underneath Yellowstone National Park — here’s what would happen if it erupted

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    vegetable crops agriculture

    • Veteran plant scientist Joanne Chory wants to engineer a new root that will suck excess carbon dioxide out of the air.
    • She hopes the drought- and flood-resistant crop could also feed the world.
    • On Sunday, Chory was awarded $3 million from a clan of Silicon Valley CEOs at the 2018 Breakthrough Prizes.


    Plant scientist Joanne Chory has $3 million more than she did last week.

    On Sunday, Chory was awarded one of the prestigious 2018 Breakthrough Prizes in life sciences, an award given out annually to scientists by Silicon Valley tycoons including Google co-founder Sergey Brin and Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg. The team characterizes the awards as the “Oscars of science,” and started giving them in 2012 to applaud scientific advances in life sciences, fundamental physics, and math.

    Chory won the prize for the research she's done for the past 30 years to find new ways to grow heartier plants.

    But she is now shifting gears to engineer a leafy green that could both feed the planet and suck carbon dioxide out of the air to curb climate change. Chory hopes that one day, this drought and flood-resistant crop can be grown as food while sequestering 20 times more carbon than today's perennial grasses. It may taste like a chickpea, she said.

    Chory estimates it will take roughly ten years and $50 million dollars to make the protein-rich plant a reality. But the clock is ticking: most estimates suggest by the end of this century, the Earth is on track to be at least 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than pre-industrial levels.

    suberin salk plant

    "Our world is at a crossroads," Chory told a crowd in Palo Alto on Monday, a day after she won the prize. "We need to do something, do something soon, to help the planet not get so hot."

    Her team's carbon-capturing plant idea is based on a polymer called ‘Suberin.’

    “It basically is cork,” she said.

    Suberin, Chory said, can store and retain carbon for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years in soil without biodegrading. A perennial plant with Suberin could therefore both purify the air and add more oxygen to the atmosphere. And, she said, the roots could be flood- and drought-resistant.

    “A lot of coastal grasses make a lot of Suberin,” she said. “I think they’re keeping the water out of the plant.”

    Chory has already figured out new ways to grow mutant plant shoots without light. She's made certain plants grow taller in the shade by exposing their seeds to DNA-altering chemicals, and discovered a new class of plant hormones called ‘brassinosteroids’. Her work has also helped create more stress- and pathogen-resistant strains of crops for harsh conditions. 

    In order for Chory's new plant creation to make a dent in global warming, she estimates it'd need to take up 5% of the world’s cropland. With that kind of space — a swath about the size of Egypt — she estimates the crop could capture 50% of current levels of global CO2 emissions from humans.

    While the idea may still just be a hope, Chory thinks it's probably a better strategy than trying to get people to reduce carbon emissions in other ways.

    “I live in Southern California where no one’s reducing their carbon footprint by 50%— including myself,” she said. 

    Chory said she's no green thumb — she jokes that she knows the insides of plants better than the outsides. But she's hopeful that with enough breeding trial and error, she'll be able to engineer a way to help the environment without changing her California lifestyle.

    SEE ALSO: A few of the very best photos of Sunday's Supermoon

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: To save the environment, scientists are turning carbon dioxide into stone

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    • A company has developed an air filter for car interiors called 'Airbubbl.'
    • Pollution inside cars is a much bigger problem than people think according to Professor Matthew Johnson, co-founder of Airlabs.
    • The filters can be replaced every 6-12 months depending on car usage. 
    • Orders are currently being taken on Kickstarter.


    Researchers in Copenhagen have created a market-ready anti-pollution filter designed to quickly remove nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter from inside vehicles.

    They say the Airbubbl is the first technology shown to effectively remove nitrogen dioxide and other traffic pollution from inside cars.

    Project lead Professor Matthew Johnson, from the University of Copenhagen, told Reuters: "When you're in your car you're directly in the lanes of traffic and taking air into the car from the exhaust of cars in front of you. This means there are greatly elevated levels of air pollution inside of a vehicle. We've measured them in London. They could be between 40 and 20 times above the accepted exposure limits for both nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter."

    Toxic air pollution is passed through the air inlets inside cars, with emissions from diesel vehicles particularly problematic.

    The Airbubbl draws air in through a nano carbon filter.

    "We have chemically engineered a nano carbon filter that removes nitrogen dioxide, ozone and odour from the air stream," said Johnson. "We also have a high performance particle filter that's removing soot and road dust, brake dust, and other components." This is combined inside a case that can run on batteries or plug into the car's cigarette lighter.

    He added: "There are quiet fans at the two ends of the device and we've used computational fluid dynamics to direct the airflow towards the passengers."

    Johnson says that while many cabin air filters remove small particles, they do not remove nitrogen dioxide and other harmful gases.

    A prototype of the device was independently tested in London inside the 'Smogmobile' - a mobile pollution detection vehicle laboratory made by UK firm Enviro Technology.

    It drove around London measuring pollution levels with the Airbubbl both switched on and off. Within ten minutes of switching on Airbubbl, NO2 concentrations inside the car fell by 95 percent.

    The device is lightweight and attachable to the back of car headrests. Its makers say driving for two hours per day in a polluted area would require changing the filter once a year.

    It was built by start-up Airlabs, a team of atmospheric chemists and airflow engineers based at the university campus in the heart of Copenhagen Science City.

    Professor Nick Hewitt, of the Lancaster Environment Centre at Lancaster University, told Reuters by email: "Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is toxic to humans and is a regulated pollutant outdoors. If the Airbubbl product does reduce in-car concentrations of NO2 by 95 percent, as claimed, then it may be of benefit to professional drivers and others who spend significant periods of time in heavy traffic, as vehicles are an important direct and indirect source of NO2."

    A Kickstarter campaign has raised £50,000 (67,500 USD) and ends on December 8.

    The team thinks professional drivers and parents of young children are likely to be the main purchasers and the technology could be extended to other public spaces.

    "Maybe a cafe or a transportation system, or you could use it as a component inside of the air circulation system in buildings," said Johnson.

    Produced by Jasper Pickering

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    2221 Pele's Fire_Sabrina Koehler_Earth science/Royal Society Publishing Photography Competition

    Scientists explore the most unique corners of our world. They survey the frigid waters underneath the edge of Antarctica, watch polar bears circle as they look for a patch of ice to rest on, and gaze up at the stars from the high altitude Chilean desert.

    They're able to capture some pretty stunning photos while they do all that.

    Some of the best of these images are showcased in the annual Royal Society Publishing Photography Competition.

    Check out a selection of the finalists and winners below.

    SEE ALSO: Stunning new photos show the faces of animals on the verge of extinction

    In Nahuelbuta National Park, Chile, a tiny acari gets trapped by an elastic bluish thread of a spiderweb.

    At the current Pu'u O'o eruption site of the active Kilauea volcano in Hawaii's Volcano National Park, the lava flows that created the Big Island still make it grow every year.

    A family of olive oil droplets hang from a soft silk thread.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    • The bitcoin network requires a tremendous amount of electricity.
    • As bitcoin becomes more popular, the math problems computers must solve to make more bitcoin become more difficult, which requires more energy.
    • Cryptocurrencies are slowing the effort to achieve a rapid transition away from fossil fuels at a crucial time for humanity.


    If you're like me, you've probably been ignoring the bitcoin phenomenon for years — because it seemed too complex, far-fetched, or maybe even too libertarian. But if you have any interest in a future where the world moves beyond fossil fuels, you and I should both start paying attention now.

    Last week, the value of a single bitcoin broke the $10,000 barrier for the first time. Over the weekend, the price nearly hit $12,000. At the beginning of this year, it was less than $1,000.

    If you had bought $100 in bitcoin back in 2011, your investment would be worth nearly $4 million today. All over the internet there are stories of people who treated their friends to lunch a few years ago and, as a novelty, paid with bitcoin. Those same people are now realizing that if they'd just paid in cash and held onto their digital currency, they'd now have enough money to buy a house.

    That sort of precipitous rise is stunning, of course, but bitcoin wasn't intended to be an investment instrument. Its creators envisioned it as a replacement for money itself — a decentralized, secure, anonymous method for transferring value between people.

    But what they might not have accounted for is how much of an energy suck the computer network behind bitcoin could one day become. 

    Simply put, bitcoin is slowing the effort to achieve a rapid transition away from fossil fuels

    What's more, this is just the beginning. Given its rapidly growing climate footprint, bitcoin is a malignant development, and it's getting worse.

    bitcoin mining supercomputersCryptocurrencies like bitcoin provide a unique service: Financial transactions that don't require governments to issue currency or banks to process payments. Writing in the Atlantic, Derek Thompson calls bitcoin an "ingenious and potentially transformative technology" that the entire economy could be built on — the currency equivalent of the internet. Some are even speculating that bitcoin could someday make the U.S. dollar obsolete.

    But the rise of bitcoin is also happening at a specific moment in history: Humanity is decades behind schedule on counteracting climate change, and every action in this era should be evaluated on its net impact on the climate. Increasingly, bitcoin is failing the test.

    Digital financial transactions come with a real-world price

    The tremendous growth of cryptocurrencies has created an exponential demand for computing power. As bitcoin grows, the math problems computers must solve to make more bitcoin (a process called "mining") get more and more difficult — a wrinkle designed to control the currency's supply.

    Today, each bitcoin transaction requires the same amount of energy used to power nine homes in the U.S. for one day. And miners are constantly installing more and faster computers. Already, the aggregate computing power of the bitcoin network is nearly 100,000 times larger than the world's 500 fastest supercomputers combined.

    The total energy use of this web of hardware is huge — an estimated 31 terawatt-hours per year. More than 150 individual countries in the world consume less energy annually. And that power-hungry network is currently increasing its energy use every day by about 450 gigawatt-hours, roughly the same amount of electricity the entire country of Haiti uses in a year.

    That sort of electricity use is pulling energy from grids all over the world, where it could be charging electric vehicles and powering homes, to bitcoin-mining farms. In Venezuela, where rampant hyperinflation and subsidized electricity has led to a boom in bitcoin mining, rogue operations are now occasionally causing blackouts across the country.

    The world's largest bitcoin mines are in China, where they siphon energy from huge hydroelectric dams, some of the cheapest sources of carbon-free energy in the world. One enterprising Tesla owner even attempted to rig up a mining operation in his car, to make use of free electricity at a public charging station.

    In just a few months from now, at bitcoin's current growth rate, the electricity demanded by the cryptocurrency network will start to outstrip what's available, requiring new energy-generating plants. And with the climate conscious racing to replace fossil fuel-base plants with renewable energy sources, new stress on the grid means more facilities using dirty technologies.

    By July 2019, the bitcoin network will require more electricity than the entire United States currently uses. By February 2020, it will use as much electricity as the entire world does today.

    This is an unsustainable trajectory

    It simply can't continue.

    There are already several efforts underway to reform how the bitcoin network processes transactions, with the hope that it'll one day require less electricity to make new coins. But as with other technological advances like irrigation in agriculture and outdoor LED lighting, more efficient systems for mining bitcoin could have the effect of attracting thousands of new miners.

    It's certain that the increasing energy burden of bitcoin transactions will divert progress from electrifying the world and reducing global carbon emissions. In fact, I'd guess it probably already has. The only question at this point is: by how much?

    SEE ALSO: Rapid collapse of Antarctic glaciers could flood coastal cities by the end of this century

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Cryptocurrency is the next step in the digitization of everything — 'It’s sort of inevitable'

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    A driver filmed smoke rising from the raging Creek Fire in Los Angeles, filmed before freeways were closed.

    The Los Angeles Fire Department said on Tuesday that more than 400 firefighters had been assigned to deal with the Creek fire.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    los angeles california wildfires

    It was not a normal commute for drivers on the 405 freeway in Los Angeles on Wednesday morning.

    In the hours before sunrise, wildfire embers fueled by strong Santa Ana winds shot up into the air above traffic, creating a fiery hellscape that heated drivers' windows and temporarily shut down the interstate. Early Wednesday morning, both sides of the freeway had to be shut down, but the southbound 405 was later re-opened.

    Strong Santa Ana winds and unusually dry, hot weather are fueling the fires, which started Monday in Ventura County.

    The National Weather Service and local firefighters say conditions could worsen before things get better, since the windy days are expected to last until at least Saturday. A roughly 300-mile stretch of California, from the Mexican border up to Santa Maria, is on alert.

    The southern California fires come just two months after northern California was hit with its deadliest spate of wildfires on record. The governor has yet again declared a state of emergency as nearly 200,000 people have been forced to evacuate. 

    Here's what people were sharing.

    SEE ALSO: Schools and freeways closed, thousands of people forced to flee as multiple wildfires tear through Southern California

    After flames shot over cars, northbound lanes of the 405 freeway were shut down between the 101 and the 10 "for an unknown duration due to a brush fire," the California Highway Patrol tweeted.


    Freeway slopes near Beverly Hills were lighting up the sky in bright orange just before dawn. The Getty Museum in the nearby hilltops was shuttered, tweeting "air filtration systems are protecting the galleries from smoke."


    Twitter user Bethany Ellis posted a video, shouting "something is wrong!" and "I can feel the heat!"

    Source: @bethanyel

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Shocking footage taken by Tavish Campbell shows an underwater pipe spewing fish blood into a public water channel in Canada. For now, the practice is totally legal. Watch Tavish's full video here. Following is a transcript of the video.

    This pipe is dumping blood into public water in British Columbia. The pipe is connected to a salmon processing plant, that’s spewing out fish blood into the Discovery Passage channel.

    Tavish Campbell discovered and filmed the incident. He visited the pipe multiples times in 2017. He wanted to see the effect of fish processing plants on the ecosystem but he didn't expect to find such a gruesome scene.

    He took samples of the blood to researchers. They say it's full of intestinal worms and Piscine Reovirus. The virus can be deadly to wild fish but isn't harmful to humans.

    Brown's Bay Packing owns the plant. In a statement, they say they do disinfect blood before dumping it. But, activists say they should take a step further and stop dumping blood altogether. Instead, the blood can be used in fertilizer.

    The B.C. government has called for a review of this practice. So far no official action has been taken.


    Join the conversation about this story »

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    California wildfires December 2017

    • The devastating wildfires tearing through Southern California are happening during an especially bad fire season out west.
    • Earlier this year, California saw its deadliest fire disaster in history.
    • These fires are worse than normal at least partially because it has been so hot and dry in California during what should be the wet season.

    Wildfires are tearing across Southern California, forcing more than 200,000 people to flee from their homes in and around Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

    It's an out-of-control situation and only getting worse, with peak fire conditions expected to last through at least Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

    These devastating blazes come in a particularly bad year for fires. Earlier this fall, Northern California experienced the deadliest fire disaster in state history. And throughout the west, it has been a disturbingly destructive and long wildfire season.

    "This one, in particular, has been a longer season. It really hasn't stopped since the fall of 2016," Chris Wilcox of the National Interagency Fire Center told NPR's Linda Wertheimer on Weekend Edition in September.

    As the ongoing disaster in Southern California shows, things haven't let up. For those looking for an explanation of what's making the season so bad, there are a number of factors. It's the season that wildfires typically break out in Southern California. But exceptionally hot and dry conditions combined with normal factors have put parts of the state into "uncharted territory" when it comes to fire risk, according to a presentation by Alex Tardy of the National Weather Service San Diego Office.

    What's making this such a bad year for fires

    Normally, high-pressure weather systems force winds to whip down through Southern California in the fall and winter. These Santa Ana winds typically peak in December or January, according to Tardy's presentation. This year, they're particularly intense, with more than 80 mph winds spreading blazes far faster than they can be contained.

    california fires"There will be no ability to fight fire in these kinds of winds," California Fire said about the Thursday forecast, Los Angeles Times reporter Joe Serna said on Twitter.

    What's unusual about this year is that the region has seen one of the hottest and driest starts ever to what should be the wet season.

    Temperatures are about 15 degrees above normal for this time of year, according to meteorologist Eric Holthaus, who recently reported that Los Angeles has received just 0.11 inches of rain since October 1.

    While a number of factors may have played a role in the specific weather patterns seen over Southern California over the past few months, in general, experts say that climate change has played a role in making wildfire season longer and more extreme.

    The amount of land burned in the US since 1984 is double what would have been expected without the effects of climate change in that period, according to one study. And the average wildfire season in the west now lasts at least two and a half months longer than it did in the early 1970s, according to WXshift, a project of Climate Central.

    In California, scientists have reported that climate change exacerbated the multi-year drought that ended when the rains came last winter. Those rains created an abundance of new growth that then dried out over an exceptionally hot summer. New growth tends to be brushy and flammable — and it can be blown a long way, which spreads fires further and creates new ones. All of that new vegetation plus older trees that never received enough moisture to fully recover from the drought made for a bumper crop of fire fuel.

    Right now, the National Weather Service expects critical conditions to continue through at least the weekend. But it'll likely be some time before there's any rain in the region. As of Tuesday, the Global Forecast System didn't show any measurable precipitation in the state of California for at least 16 days.

    SEE ALSO: The 'extremely active' 2017 hurricane season is finally over — here are the insane records it set

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: The disturbing reason some people turn red when they drink alcohol

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    lava reunion volcano piton de la fournaise

    2017 was a year of destruction. Wildfires raged, volcanoes erupted and pollution swarmed entire cities in a fog of smoggy air.

    But the beauty of the natural world didn't escape unnoticed. Here are some of the most gorgeous photos of what happened to the Earth this year, as captured by Reuters photographers.

    SEE ALSO: This winter may bring extra snow to some parts of the US and mild temperatures to others — here's the forecast where you live

    It was a record-setting year for climbers.

    In the photo above, a solo climber journeys up a wall of ice in a northern pocket of the Czech Republic.

    Other impressive accomplishments this year included a new record for the speediest climb: two men in Yosemite climbed 2,900 feet up "the Nose" in 2 hours and 19 minutes.

    And daredevil free-solo climber Alex Honnold scrambled up "El Capitain" in the same park without any ropes or protective equipment, becoming the first person to complete the climb that way.

    In Norway, a Czech climber finished the hardest single-rope-length climb in 20 exhilarating minutes, The Guardian reported. 


    In August, the sun, the moon, and the Earth all lined up for a rare celestial show.

    People across the United States cheered and peered skyward as a total solar eclipse swept across the continent.

    In September, charged particles from the sun hitting the Earth's magnetic field produced quite a show in Finland.

    The Northern Lights happen when high-energy particles shooting out from the sun come into contact with the Earth's magnetic field and drift towards the poles. 

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    starving polar bear baffin islands

    • Heartbreaking video shows a starving polar bear scavenging for food on dry land.
    • The scene in Canada's Baffin Islands was taken by National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen.
    • Nicklen said he and his crew were "filming with tears rolling down our cheeks."

    A video of a starving wild polar bear roaming around dry land looking for food has gone viral.

    In the heartbreaking footage, taken in Canada's northerly Baffin Islands, the bony male polar bear slowly ambles along dry land.

    Head down, he rummages in a nearby rubbish bin looking for food. When he finds nothing, he slumps to the ground.

    Canadian photographer Paul Nicklen, who recorded the scene with conservation group Sea Legacy, told National Geographic: "We stood there crying — filming with tears rolling down our cheeks."

    The bear most likely died "within hours or days of this moment," and there was nothing Nicklen could have done to save him, he said on Instagram.

    Feeding wild polar bears is illegal in Canada, and even if it weren't, feeding the bear would only prolong his misery, National Geographic said.

    Nicklen added: "It's not like I walk around with a tranquilizer gun or 400 pounds of seal meat."

    Watch the video, which Nicklen posted on Instagram on Tuesday, here:

    My entire @Sea_Legacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear. It’s a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me, but I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy. This is what starvation looks like. The muscles atrophy. No energy. It’s a slow, painful death. When scientists say polar bears will be extinct in the next 100 years, I think of the global population of 25,000 bears dying in this manner. There is no band aid solution. There was no saving this individual bear. People think that we can put platforms in the ocean or we can feed the odd starving bear. The simple truth is this—if the Earth continues to warm, we will lose bears and entire polar ecosystems. This large male bear was not old, and he certainly died within hours or days of this moment. But there are solutions. We must reduce our carbon footprint, eat the right food, stop cutting down our forests, and begin putting the Earth—our home—first. Please join us at @sea_legacy as we search for and implement solutions for the oceans and the animals that rely on them—including us humans. Thank you your support in keeping my @sea_legacy team in the field. With @CristinaMittermeier #turningthetide with @Sea_Legacy #bethechange #nature #naturelovers

    A post shared by Paul Nicklen (@paulnicklen) on Dec 5, 2017 at 8:52am PST on

    The photographer wrote in the accompanying caption:

    "My entire Sea Legacy team was pushing through their tears and emotions while documenting this dying polar bear.

    "It’s a soul-crushing scene that still haunts me, but I know we need to share both the beautiful and the heartbreaking if we are going to break down the walls of apathy.

    "This is what starvation looks like. The muscles atrophy. No energy. It’s a slow, painful death.

    "When scientists say polar bears will be extinct in the next 100 years, I think of the global population of 25,000 bears dying in this manner.

    "There is no band aid solution. There was no saving this individual bear. People think that we can put platforms in the ocean or we can feed the odd starving bear.

    "The simple truth is this — if the Earth continues to warm, we will lose bears and entire polar ecosystems. This large male bear was not old, and he certainly died within hours or days of this moment.

    "But there are solutions. We must reduce our carbon footprint, eat the right food, stop cutting down our forests, and begin putting the Earth — our home — first."

    SEE ALSO: This heartbreaking photo of the world's last male northern white rhino went viral after showing 'what extinction looks like'

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: 40 years ago, NASA sent a message to aliens — here's what it says

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    California wildfires December 2017

    Firefighters are battling a series of out-of-control wildfires in Los Angeles, Ventura, and San Diego counties, and the blazes are showing no signs of slowing.

    A new fire, the Lilac Fire, broke out in San Diego County on Thursday evening, prompting further evacuations and school closures.

    State officials say more than 168,000 acres throughout the region are burning from five major blazes. Over 5,000 firefighters have been deployed to combat the fires, and authorities have closed major highways, canceled school, and ordered close to 200,000 people to evacuate.

    The fire danger was a 296 on the brush burning index on Thursday — a record high, according to CNN. The figure is calculated based on a range of factors including moisture levels, wind, and humidity. A rating above 162 is considered the most extreme risk.

    While high winds subsided somewhat on Friday, forecasters are expecting gusts of about 60 mph.

    The first and largest blaze, the Thomas Fire, started Monday night in Ventura County. The Creek Fire near Sylmar and the Rye Fire in Santa Clarita broke out in the early hours of Tuesday morning, and the Skirball Fire, centered on the wealthy Bel Air neighborhood in Los Angeles, started Wednesday morning.

    Here are the locations of all the fires, as well the most recent total acreage burning as of Friday morning.

    SEE ALSO: Schools and freeways closed, nearly 200,000 people forced to flee as wildfires tear through Southern California

    Thomas Fire, Ventura County

    The Thomas Fire is burning 143,000 acres and has destroyed at least 439 structures out of at least 15,000 threatened. Firefighters have contained 10% of the blaze as high winds continue to whip the fire.

    Officials ordered further evacuations in the Ojai area as high winds pushed the fire closer to populated areas on Thursday. A woman's body was found near a vehicle in a burn area near Ojai, but officials have not yet determined a cause of death.

    Creek Fire, Sylmar

    As of Friday night, all evacuation orders were lifted in areas around Sylmar that were affected by the Creek Fire. 

    The inferno has burned 15,619 acres, and officials estimate it has destroyed at least 56 homes and damaged 45 others, according to the state fire agency Cal Fire. Another 49 structures were destroyed and 25 were damaged out of at least 2,500 threatened. Firefighters have managed to contain 70% of the blaze.

    Rye Fire, Santa Clarita

    The Rye Fire has burned 6,049 acres near Santa Clarita, and firefighters have contained 50% of the fire. Authorities said nearly 5,500 homes were still threatened as of Friday night.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Polar bears aren't actually white. Their color is determined by the lighting and climate of their surroundings. Following is a transcript of the video.

    Polar bears aren't actually white.Turns out, they can come in all sorts of colors: yellow, gray, orange, and even green. That's because polar bear fur is transparent and hollow.When light strikes the outer fur some of it is absorbed while the rest is scattered away.

    The result? The fur can appear as different colors under different lighting. Normally, polar bears look white. That's because their fur is scattering sunlight, which is also white. But on a cloudy day, the bears can look slightly gray. At sunset, they can appear reddish-orange. But lighting is only half the story.

    Polar bears in zoos have been known to turn green. Concrete floors in their pens scrape against the fur. The abrasions form tiny holes in their hairs, opening a gateway for algae that can live and breed inside. In the Arctic, temperatures are too cold for these algae. But wild polar bear fur can still change color to yellow, thanks to oils from their prey that stain the fur.

    Perhaps the most surprising thing about polar bears? Underneath all that hair, polar bear skin is actually black. The black skin readily absorbs sunlight to keep the bear warm. Polar bears aren't just the ambassadors of the North Pole. They're masters at manipulating color to survive.

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    aerial earth

    From the on-the-ground perspective, Earth is pretty stunning.

    But that view is limited.

    Take to the skies and you can see the world in entirely new ways.

    These are some of the most stunning aerial photos that Reuters photographers took of life on Earth over the past year.

    Cities peek through clouds of smog, forests smolder as they burn, and rivers flow through the Australian outback.

    Check out some of the most amazing perspectives of Earth from above captured in 2017.


    SEE ALSO: These are 15 of the best photos scientists took in 2017 — and they show the world in stunning ways

    A rainbow of bicycles sits at a parking lot in Shanghai, China.

    Agents of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources burn forest to combat illegal logging in the state of Amazonas, Brazil.

    A machine tries to clear a road across the Sognefjellet mountain in Krossbu, Norway.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Thomas Fire california

    • California's wildfires are getting worse: 14 of the 20 largest wildfires in the state have happened since the year 2000, according to an analysis. 
    • The state spent $505 million fighting fires in 2017, and if trends continue, that cost will continue to go up. 


    A series of wildfires have devastated Southern California over the past week, and they're showing few signs of slowing down.

    The Thomas Fire in Ventura County, which had burned over 230,500 acres as of Monday morning, already ranks as the fifth largest fire in California's history (since records were kept).

    While that's a far cry from the Rush Fire, the largest fire in California's history — which burned 271,911 acres in 2012 — the Thomas Fire is still only 15% contained. 

    According to an analysis from Climate Nexus, these fires, and the fires that devastated Northern California in October, are part of a larger trend of climate change that's only going to get worse.

    Fourteen of the 20 largest fires in California's history have occurred since the year 2000, according to Climate Nexus. California is coming off of a record heat wave in September that dried out the state, turning Southern California into a tinderbox. 

    Because of climate change, the average wildfire season lasts at least 2 1/2 months longer than it did in the early 1970s. And the amount of land burned in the US since 1984 is double what would have been expected without the effects of climate change.

    fire losa angeles

    Gov. Jerry Brown called the wildfires a "new normal," for California.

    "This could be something that happens every year or every few years," Brown said over the weekend, per The Los Angeles Times. "We're about to have a firefighting Christmas." 

    Here's the list of the fourteen largest fires since the year 2000, from Climate Nexus:

    • December 2017: Thomas, 230,500 acres
    • September 2016: Soberanes, 132,127 acres
    • July 2015: Rough, 151,623 acres
    • August 2014: Happy Camp Complex, 134,056 acres
    • August 2013: Rim, 257,314 acres
    • August 2012: Rush, 271,911 acres
    • August 2009: Station 160,557 acres
    • June 2008: Klamath Theater Complex, 192,038 acres
    • June 2008: Basin Complex, 162,818 acres
    • October 2007: Witch, 197,990 acres
    • July 2007: Zaca, 240,207 acres
    • September 2006: Day, 162,702 acres
    • October 2003: Cedar, 273,246 acres
    • July 2002: McNally, 150,696 acres

    Between 1930 and 1999, there were only six fires over 100,000 acres in California, according to Climate Nexus. 

    As larger fires burn in the state, fire-related expenditures are also increasing. Climate Nexus calculated that in the 2017 fiscal year (which ends in October), California's Department of Fire and Forestry protection spent $505 million fighting fires across the state. Twenty years ago, in 1997, the state spent only $47 million. 

    The Soberanes wildfire in 2016 set the record for the costliest firefight in history, with the state spending $260 million to battle the blaze.

    SEE ALSO: New fires break out in Southern California as high winds continue to lash the region — nearly 200,000 have evacuated

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: A driver in Los Angeles filmed huge smoke rising from a growing brush fire

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    california fires

    • Multiple wildfires continue to race through parts of Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Diego counties in Southern California.
    • The largest blaze — known as the Thomas Fire — has scorched more than 230,000 acres. 
    • Evacuation orders have been extended to parts of Santa Barbara, affecting nearly 100,000 people.
    • One death has been blamed on the Thomas Fire so far. 


    Santa Barbara is now threatened by the rapidly-growing Thomas Fire, as thousands of firefighters battle several infernos burning through Southern California. 

    The fire grew by 50,000 acres on Sunday as dry Santa Ana winds continued, triggering evacuation orders throughout Santa Barbara County. One death has been blamed on the Thomas Fire: the body of 70-year-old Virginia Pesola was discovered at a car crash site on an evacuation route in Ventura County on Wednesday night, according to NBC

    Over 9,000 firefighters are working across the region to contain the blazes. Over 1,000 structures have been damaged or destroyed, and 98,000 people have been forced to evacuate since the fires started a week ago. 

    Here are the numbers as of Monday morning, according to Los Angeles Countyofficials and Cal Fire, a state fire-safety agency:

    • Thomas Fire in Ventura County: 230,500 acres burned, 15% containment, 981 structures destroyed out of at least 18,000 threatened, one death. 
    • Creek Fire in Sylmar: 15,619 acres burned, 95% containment, 89 structures damaged or destroyed. 
    • Rye Fire in Santa Clarita: 6,049 acres, 93% containment.
    • Skirball Fire in Bel Air: 421 acres, 85% containment.
    • Lilac Fire in San Diego County: 4,100 acres, 151 structures destroyed, 75% containment, evacuation orders lifted.

    The first and largest blaze, the Thomas Fire, started Oct 4 in Ventura County. Its flames reached the Pacific Ocean on Wednesday. Several cities in the Ojai Valley were under mandatory evacuation orders on Saturday, though some of those orders have been lifted.  Officials issued a new round of evacuations for residents in Santa Barbara on Sunday, however, and warned that they may order more on Monday. 

    Mandatory evacuation orders now affect nearly 100,000 people, down from 200,000 last week. 

    california wildfires

    The Skirball fire in Bel Air threatened the Getty Center art museum, though firefighters had contained 85% of the blaze by Monday morning and the museum remained unharmed. 

    Officials called the combination of dryness and powerful winds a "recipe for explosive fire growth." Wind gusts of up to 80 mph were recorded on Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times. Mark Lorenzen, the Ventura County fire chief, told reporters that the fires' spread had been "absolutely exponential."

    The region is still under a "red flag" advisory. Forecasters expect the winds to subside this week, though there is still no rain in the immediate forecast

    "We're chasing the fire trying to get ahead of it, trying to get in front to provide structure defense," David Richardson, the Los Angeles County deputy fire chief, told the LA Times.


    "There will be no ability to fight fire in these kinds of winds," Ken Pimlott, California's fire chief, told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. "At the end of the day, we need everyone in the public to listen and pay attention. This is not 'watch the news and go about your day.' This is 'pay attention minute-by-minute … keep your head on a swivel.'"

    Lorenzen told The LA Times on Thursday that if rains don't fall on the region, the Thomas Fire could continue burning for weeks. That prediction has held up as of Monday, as the fire continues to grow. 

    "My hope is that within a week, the issues around the population areas are going to be gone, but then it’s still going to be up in the forest in the wilderness areas, and it's a challenge," Lorenzen said. "It's hard to get. The size and the scope of this thing is going to be enormous."

    Officials urged residents to wear masks outside, as the air quality near the fires was rated "hazardous"— the worst classification.

    california fires

    Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency, freeing up state funds to help tackle the wildfires. 

    "This fire is very dangerous and spreading rapidly, but we'll continue to tackle it with all we've got," Brown said. "It's critical residents stay ready and evacuate immediately if told to do so."

    Brown called the fires a "new normal," over the weekend, since this year's devastating wildfire season is part of a larger trend fueled by climate change

    "This could be something that happens every year or every few years," Brown said on Monday, per The Los Angeles Times. "We're about to have a firefighting Christmas." 

    Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles' mayor, told reporters on Friday, "these are days that break your heart, these are also days that show the resilience of our city."

    California fires

    Hours before the blazes started on Monday, the NWS warned that there would "be the potential for very rapid spread of wildfire" and "extreme fire behavior." Fire danger was rated a 296 on the brush burning index on Thursday — a record, according to CNN. The figure is calculated based on moisture levels, wind, humidity, and a range of other factors. A rating above 162 is considered the most extreme risk. 

    California has been ravaged by wildfires in recent months. In October, a series of fires destroyed communities in Northern California's Napa and Sonoma counties in what is considered the deadliest wildfire in the state's history. Experts said at the time that it would take years for the state to recover.

    Here's a map of the location of the current fires:

    active fires

    And here's a map showing all of the areas under a red-flag warning, where there is the highest risk of fire:

    Red flag fire warning

    SEE ALSO: Horrifying images of the raging wildfires in Southern California show how rapidly destruction has spread

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Watch a US Navy helicopter squadron fight the California wildfires by dropping huge barrels of water

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    sand motor

    • The Dutch government has built a "sand motor"— hundreds of millions of cubic feet of dredged sand that will protect the Netherlands' southern coast from sea level rise and erosion.
    •  Over the next 20 years, waves will push the sand into protective barriers along the coast.
    • A significant portion of the Netherlands sits below sea level, a reality that has prompted the country to seriously address the looming consequences of climate change. 


    If the world continues on current path of high greenhouse gas emissions, scientists predict that oceans could rise more than six feet by the end of this century. Sea level rise is already eroding coastlines and flooding cities and towns — from Miami, Florida to Sussex, England— during storms.

    Cities in the Netherlands have long served as examples of how to grapple with these threats. For years, sand dunes and sea walls have protected the country's coasts.

    But now, environmental engineers and scientists say these strategies are not enough. The Dutch government is turning to "sand motors"— dredged sand that simulates the natural formation of dunes.

    The country devoted $81 million toward its first sand motor along the southwestern coast in 2011. Over the next 20 years, waves will push the sand into protective barriers along at least six miles of the southern coast. The project used 756 million cubic feet of sand from the North Sea, creating over 10,000 acres of land. 

    The photo below shows the motor's progress so far:

    sand engine

    As Yale Environment 360 notes, the idea came from Marcel Stive, chair of coastal engineering at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The goal is to expand the country's coasts, making them safer from erosion and rising sea levels. Around 21% of the country's population resides below sea level, putting them at risk.

    Stive's team will monitor the sand motor to determine if other areas in the Netherlands (and elsewhere) should implement the technology.

    "Besides coastal protection, the knowledge we will gain here is very important. With all this data, we will try to gain more knowledge around this pilot. And we would like to export our knowledge to other countries," project manager Carola van Gelder-Maas said in a video.

    SEE ALSO: How Miami has prepared for sea level rise and monstrous hurricanes

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    california wildfires satellite photo D1 20171208 ventura wildfires USA deimos imaging

    While the most destructive wildfire season in California's history slogs on, satellites are recording the devastation from space.

    California's latest group of blazes began with the Thomas fire in Ventura County on December 4. Since then, at least six other large fires sparked across the Southern California counties of Los Angeles (Creek, Rye, and Skirball fires), San Bernardino (Little Mountain fire), San Diego (Lilac fire), and Riverside (Liberty fire).

    The Thomas fire in Ventura County is by far the largest at more than 230,000 acres in size, and it's only about 15% contained as of Monday morning. It continues to burn along with four other fires that are spreading due to strong Santa Ana winds, which peak during December and January.

    The new blazes have triggered the evacuation of almost 100,000 people, killed at least one person, razed some 1,000 buildings, and scorched more than 250,000 acres of land. This ongoing disaster in Southern California also joins the deadly wildfires across Northern California in October that killed 42 people, destroyed 9,000 structures, and may take the state years to recover from.

    Thick smoke and intense heat make it difficult for low-flying aircraft to capture the extent of a wildfire's damage. However, a few satellites with high-power cameras and special sensors offer unique and detailed views of the evolving disaster from space.

    Here's what they've recorded so far, plus a few incredible images taken by astronauts in space:

    SEE ALSO: 25 photos that prove we're all stowaways on a tiny, fragile spaceship

    DON'T MISS: Satellite photos show shocking wildfire damage in Northern California from space

    Shortly after the fires started, satellites passing over Southern California began watching the blazes develop.

    This view is from the European Space Agency's Sentinel-2 satellite. It shows Ventura County, which is about a 1.5-hour drive northwest of Los Angeles, on December 5.

    Brown shows the burn scar (center), green shows plants, gray shows urban areas, and orange shows active fires.

    Source: NASA Earth Observatory

    The smoke from the wildfires wafted over the Pacific Ocean for hundreds of miles.

    NASA's Terra satellite shows the Thomas fire in Ventura County on the afternoon of December 5.

    Source: NASA Earth Observatory

    Astronaut Randy Bresnik also began taking photographs as the Thomas fire developed and new blazes broke out.

    Source: Randy Bresknik/Twitter

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    climate change

    • US mayors have pledged to meet the US goals set in the Paris climate agreement, despite President Donald Trump's pledge to pull out.
    • In the Chicago Climate Charter, mayors have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the targets set by the Paris agreement, as well as promote investment in clean energy, public transit, and other climate-friendly initiatives.
    • The initiative is led by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and supported by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and former President Barack Obama. 


    US mayors are stepping up on the two-year anniversary of the Paris climate agreement, despite President Trump's vow to pull the US out.

    More than 50 mayors from across the US and Canada participated in the North American Climate Summit in Chicago earlier this month, signing an official agreement — the Chicago Climate Charter— in which they pledged to meet the emissions-reduction goals set out by the Paris agreement.

    The agreement, which former President Barack Obama signed exactly two years ago, pushed member nations to curb greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide and methane, to keep the global temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

    Trump has claimed the agreement would harm US businesses and pledged to pull the US out — a process that will take several years. If the US does remove itself,  it will be the only country in the world not signed on. Trump has left the door open to "renegotiate and rejoin" the agreement, though world leaders have said that is not an option. 

    The Chicago Climate Charter will pick up where Trump left off

    The Chicago Climate Charter, led by Chicago's mayor Rahm Emmanuel, outlined concrete plans that municipal governments will take to meet the goals of the Paris agreement.

    The charter lays out plans for all signatory cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the targets set out by the Paris agreement, as well as a mechanism for cities to track and report their progress.

    Since the majority of the US population lives in cities, the mayors' agreement recognizes that municipal governments can lead on the issue by promoting clean energy, investing in public transit, and working to reduce the carbon footprint of existing infrastructure.

    michael bloomberg emmanuel macron

    The charter also outlines a process for mayors to develop policies and local laws that empower cities to take greater action on climate change. The document also pledges to include voices that have generally been left out of the climate change conversation, including people with disabilities and marginalized communities. 

    "The Chicago Climate Charter represents tens of million residents who are committed to confronting climate change head-on," Emmanuel said in a press release. "Even as Washington fails to act, cities have the power and will to take decisive action to protect our planet and the health and safety of our residents." 

    Obama briefly spoke at the event in support of the mayors' initiative. And though he didn't mention Trump by name, his intent was clear.

    "Obviously, we’re in an unusual time when the United States is now the only nation on Earth that does not belong to the Paris Agreement," Obama said at the event, per The Chicago Tribune. "And that’s a difficult position to defend. But the good news is that the Paris Agreement was never going to solve climate crisis on its own."

    The Chicago Climate Charter builds on a pledge that former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg made last year — cities and businesses will lead on climate change, he said, with or without the federal government's support.

    The Global Covenant of Mayors,a group chaired by Bloomberg, was in part responsible for organizing the Chicago event. 

    Bloomberg is in Paris this week attending French President Emmanuel Macron's One Planet Summit, a gathering of 50 world leaders and corporate executives to discuss solutions to the climate change problem.

    Trump was not invited to the summit. 

    SEE ALSO: The world may actually get 15% hotter than scientists previously thought by the end of the century

    Join the conversation about this story »

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