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Posts tagged "aquifers"

Where is all the groundwater going?

July 17, 2012 
Dear Secretary Clinton,
We are writing to ask that the State Department conduct, as part of its evaluation of the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, a serious review of the effect of helping open Canada’s tar sands on the planet’s climate.
At the moment, your department is planning to consider the effects of the pipeline on “recreation,” “visual resources,” and “noise,” among other factors. Those are important—but omitting climate change from the considerations is neither wise nor credible. The vast volumes of carbon in the tar sands ensure that they will play an important role in whether or not climate change gets out of hand; understanding the role this largescale new pipeline will play in that process is clearly crucial.
We were pleased that President Obama saw fit to review this project more carefully; it would be a shame if that review did not manage to comprehensively cover the most important questions at issue.
John Abraham
Associate Professor, School of Engineering
University of St. Thomas
Ken Caldeira
Senior Scientist
Department of Global Ecology
Carnegie Institution
James Hansen
Research Scientist
The International Research Institute for Climate and Society
The Earth Institute, Columbia University
Michael MacCracken
Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs
Climate Institute
Michael E. Mann
Professor of Meteorology
Director, Earth System Science Center
The Pennsylvania State University
James McCarthy
Alexander Agassiz Professor of Biological Oceanography
Harvard University
Michael Oppenheimer
Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs
Woodrow Wilson School and Department of Geosciences
Princeton University
Raymond T. Pierrehumbert
Louis Block Professor in the Geophysical Sciences
The University of Chicago
Richard Somerville
Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
George M. Woodwell
Founder, Director Emeritus, and Senior Scientist
Woods Hole Research Center


Science Bulletins: Water Underground

Texas endured its driest year ever in 2011, and southern Alabama and Georgia have continued to suffer serious drought in 2012. Climate change is predicted to make drought more frequent in the southern United States, putting a strain on groundwater resources. This visualization reveals the freshwater stores that NASA’s GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite detects from space and shows how that data can be used to evaluate groundwater gains and losses, critical information in the effort to conserve the water that people depend upon. For background information, educational resources, and more, visit Water Underground on the Science Bulletins Web site:

Science Bulletins is a production of the National Center for Science Literacy, Education, and Technology (NCSLET), part of the Department of Education at the American Museum of Natural History.

Special thanks to Matthew Rodell, Hiroko Kato Beaudoing, and Bailing Li of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

This visualization was produced by the American Museum of Natural History under award NA10SEC0080014 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of NOAA or the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Related Links

AMNH Science Bulletins: GRACE—Tracking Water from Space

International Association of Hydrogeologists: About Groundwater

National Drought Mitigation Center

NASA Earth Observatory: Texas Groundwater Severely Depleted (December 1, 2011)

Water 50/50 blog: A Drought of Texas-Size Proportions

(via scientiflix)

One of my favorite blogs is The Big Picture, run by Barry Ritholtz. It’s primarily an economics blog for wonks.

A recent post introduces the difficulties of evaluating long-term municipal infrastructure finance (eg, capital improvement projects) in the context of cancelled infrastructure projects. Exciting, eh?

I don’t agree with every thing in the piece, but over all it’s an excellent introduction to a serious issue that cities around the country face: long-term budgetary shortfalls. Cities are, for the most part, taking in less taxes than they spend on services. As a result, politicians are forced to cut spending on things like services to the elderly, education, employee benefits, and, as here, beneficial drinking water projects (note: true, sometimes they cut on ideological reasons, but despite the headlines this type of action is rare).

Anyway, the above section of drinking water pipe has been leaking for decades. The red outline shows the leak location, and the dotted line shows a proposed fix - build a bypass pipe.

The leak is so big that people’s homes have had to be evacuated. There are expanding sink holes and people are suing for damages. So much water is leaking that it could fill 650,000 swimming pools, or provide 3million Bangladeshis with water per year. The leaks were to cost NYC $60million to fix - a drop in the bucket for NY.

The project got cancelled for budget cutting reasons. And now the leak continues indefinitely and fingers are pointing to who’s at fault (Grr! Bloomberg! Grr! Obama! etc. Grr! Financial vampires!).

Meanwhile, the leak continues, homes are threatened, and drinking water for NYC may be in trouble.

This is crazy business.

‘Water witcher’ is in high demand: Spencer Powell learned to dowse for water more than 40 years ago. His list of clients is growing longer as the Texas dry spell continues.

Photo: Spencer Powell, 59, drills for water in Abilene, Texas. Credit: Molly Hennessy-Fiske / Los Angeles Times

(via latimes)

U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) today released the following statement in support of Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman’s request to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to deny the proposed route for the Keystone XL pipeline:

I support Governor Heineman’s request that President Obama and Secretary Clinton deny the current application from TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline along a route crossing Nebraska’s Sand Hills and the center of the Ogallala Aquifer,” said Johanns.

"The proposed route is the wrong route. It’s clear to me, after traveling throughout the state, that most Nebraskans agree a better route is needed. "Amid much discussion about authorities, one thing is irrefutable and that is the State Department’s authority to approve or reject TransCanada’s current permit application. The Governor has now unequivocally stated that the application should be denied; I agree. TransCanada should be forced to select a more appropriate pipeline route.”

Source: Sen. Mike Johanns

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.

Keystone goes mainstream. PBS Newshour airs a “debate” over the Keystone XL Pipeline between environmentalist Bill McKibben and capitalist Robert Bryce

The proposed pipeline would carry oil from Canadian tar sands fields to Texas refineries, but the project has sparked high-profile protests. Jeffrey Brown discusses the controversial Keystone XL pipeline proposal with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research’s Robert Bryce and environmentalist Bill McKibben.

Source: PBS NewsHour

dragon fish boston globe big picture

With hinged, needle sharp tipped teeth on it’s tongue and lips, the deep-ocean, mesopelagic Dragon Fish is not to be feared. They’re only about the size of a banana and live 1000 to 5000 meters (about 3,000 to 17,000 feet, or about a mile or three) where even the sun’s rays cannot reach. Shifts in climate on the surface of the sea is known to effect the health of creatures of the deep. But does it matter if they go extinct? To be honest, as an urban planner who researches adaptation (aka, fixing cities), I can’t think of a reason other than moral imperative. Worse, we might have to just let them go, so to speak. We can’t save every species. I can’t imagine this precious beast being listed on the endangered species list anytime soon.

That’s not to say work isn’t being done, because there is plenty of it. The 2007 AR4, aka the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report for Working Group II Climate Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation (the executive summary is worth a skim, here), addressed three topics having to do with figuring out a way to live with climate changes. This includes saving species. The three parts of the IPCC report are:

  • scientists take a snap-shot of the world today;
  • second, create predictions of the world under various climate conditions;
  • and finally, discuss reasonable options to live in a changed world.

To make sense of this gibberish, it’s basically the same as messing around with a salary or mortgage calculator and then making a decision based on the scenario it spits out. A low rate means possibly taking out more money. A high rate limits your options for the size house you can buy, etc. Same holds here. When an ecosystem is expected to change due to temperature, we assess the risk tolerance, then make a decision. Pretty straight forward. My work lies in the third part, which is figuring out our options for cities. With adaptation, urban planners like me try to figure out which buildings we should move away from eroding beaches to avoid them from falling into the ocean (figuring out who pays is a whole other ball game!). On a larger scale, cities that are close to the ocean, like New York City or Boston, are in serious trouble if the sea rises a couple feet even if it does take 100 years.

Of the work in the AR4, there is a lot already done in the first part - taking a snap-shot of the world today. This entails lots and lots of assessments, which are too lengthy to go into here (aka, incredibly boring). Just know that scientists have their hands in assessing parts of the world that are unimaginable to the general public, but are crucial for our health.

Clean and full water aquifers, for example, are serious issues for millions of people around the world. Already underground aquifers in parts of Egypt and Northern Africa are becoming saltier because of sea level rise. As the sea level rises, salt water seeps into fresh water aquifers, spoiling women’s wells and fish farms. Aquifers are essential for drinking water. And they are critical sources for streams and rivers, which obviously fuel enormous ecosystems and habitat. There are many assessments by scientists working to measure the health of important, yet unseen, systems. Take a quick peak at some other interesting summaries here (but come back to my tumblr when you’re done!).

But what to do with rare or hardly seen species, such as the poor Dragon Fish above? I can’t wrap my head around this. Their habitat will be impacted by climate change, it is indisputable. But how to help these and other species is just too big for me to fathom. Thus, we may have to just accept that they’ll be a casualty of our war with the planet.