Wedge approach proposed to lower water stress

Roughly 30 percent of the global population — or about 2.2 billion people — lives in water-stressed parts of the world, where high freshwater withdrawals endanger ecosystems, agriculture and drinking-water supplies. If current population and water usage trends persist, this fraction could rise to about one-half by the century’s end. In a recent study, researchers — taking a page from the climate-change mitigation literature — have proposed a “wedge” approach to address global water stress, laying out how various tactics could ease the growing problem.

22 Apr 2015

Of temperature and tone: Has climate shaped human languages?

Humans today speak more than 6,500 languages, and thousands more dialects once spoken have gone extinct. Understanding how and why so many languages have evolved over human history has long been the work of linguists. Recently, however, the emerging field of geo-phonetics has begun looking into how geography — and perhaps climate — affects language. In a new study, researchers suggest that humidity and temperature, which can impact our ability to craft certain sounds, appear to have influenced the evolution of tonality in languages in different parts of the world.

20 Apr 2015

Twentieth-century warming linked to Pacific trade winds

Earth’s average atmospheric temperature warmed by about 1.3 degrees Celsius over the course of the 20th century. However, the rate of increase during that time was not constant and scientists have been unable to fully explain the timing and pattern of warming. Now, a recent study has identified a correlation between global temperatures and the strength of Pacific trade winds that may help clear up the some of the confusion.

13 Mar 2015

Down to Earth With: Glaciologist Lonnie Thompson

As a child growing up in Gassaway, W.Va., Lonnie Thompson was poor. When his father died while Thompson was a senior in high school, he realized he’d need to earn a reliable paycheck as quickly as possible. As an undergraduate at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., he knew he wanted to study science; he started off as a physics major before settling on geology. Later, when he arrived at Ohio State University (OSU) as a graduate student in 1971, Thompson’s intent was to study coal geology, a practical choice that he believed would quickly secure him a job.

17 Jan 2015

Climate impacting a few of our favorite foodstuffs

Researchers have found that the number of foggy winter days in California’s agriculture-heavy Central Valley has dropped 46 percent on average over the past three decades. Fog shields the valley from sunlight and contributes to the amount of “winter chill” — the amount of time spent between zero and 7 degrees Celsius during winter dormancy — that fruit and nut trees there experience. Sufficient winter chill is necessary for buds, flowers and fruit to develop properly, and although winter chill has previously been observed to have decreased since the 1950s, no one had conducted a long-term analysis of fog occurrence trends in the area, according to Dennis Baldocchi and Eric Waller of the University of California at Berkeley.

24 Sep 2014

Colorado River Basin sees severe groundwater depletion

Over the past 14 years, the Colorado River Basin has experienced its worst drought since precipitation records have been kept, starting in the 1960s. The basin supplies water used for agriculture and in households in seven states, affecting more than 40 million people. In a study recently published in Geophysical Research Letters, researchers have found that the reservoirs that store water in the basin are at record low levels. What’s more, the research shows that in addition to shrinking reservoirs, groundwater is being depleted much faster than previously thought, which could have major implications for the region’s future water security.

24 Sep 2014

New climate record challenges ideas about recent glaciations

Predicting how a changing climate and rising sea levels might impact humans in the future requires an understanding of how Earth has changed in the past. So scientists are continually seeking more and better data to help illuminate earlier conditions.

08 Sep 2014

Volcanic ash feed southern ocean plankton

Ash plumes from volcanoes in South America and elsewhere may spur large blooms of plankton in otherwise barren parts of the Southern Ocean, but maybe not for the reason scientists have suspected, according to a new study. Such blooms are of interest because they consume atmospheric carbon dioxide, although their overall effect on climate remains far from clear.

28 Aug 2014

Warm river water melted Arctic sea ice

In September 2012, the area of the Arctic Ocean covered by sea ice was the smallest on record since satellite monitoring began in 1979. Several factors are thought to have contributed to that summer’s diminished ice, including a large cyclone in August that brought warmer ocean waters into the area and broke up the ice and a longer-term trend of thinning and weakening sea ice. Now, researchers have found that at least one large burst of warm freshwater into the Arctic earlier in the summer probably played a role as well.

23 Aug 2014

Moving cars could help gauge rainfall

Accurate and timely rainfall measurements are crucial for the design of drainage systems, dams and other modern infrastructure. But rain gauges are often spread too sparsely to provide the necessary coverage in densely populated regions. In parts of Germany, for example, gauges equipped to make hourly readings are especially scarce — just one per 1,800 square kilometers. To help fill in the gaps, researchers at the Leibniz University of Hannover are developing an idea they call “RainCars” — using moving cars to measure rainfall.

23 Jul 2014