News and Research Stories

December 6, 2012

Fossil fuels: reduce, reduce, reduce

Robert Howarth

photo: Leaflet

For the first two decades after it is released into the atmosphere, methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. In assessing impacts of hydraulic fracturing, Bob Howarth (2000) says attention should be paid to the methane released when this drilling method is used to extract natural gas. In pursuing future energy sources, he stresses the need to move away from fossil fuels, including natural gas, and toward renewable fuels such as solar and wind power. "We should focus on reducing the use of fossil fuels, not finding more of them," he says.

November 28, 2012

New tools for action on ocean health

Dawn Wright

How can people set goals for taking care of a system as large as the world's oceans? How is it even possible to know what is needed to keep oceans healthy and productive? The Ocean Health Index establishes a new world standard for measuring how people benefit from, interact with, and affect marine ecosystems, expressed as one number. Dawn Wright (2011) and her colleagues at the Environmental Systems Research Institute are working with Conservation International, Radical Media, and the University of California at Santa Barbara on methods for representing information from the index through maps on the web that will make detailed information easily available to people in every country of the world.

November 16, 2012

Happy birthday, Clean Water Act!

David Dzombak

photo: Daderot

Reflecting on the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, David Dzombak (2000) notes that the landmark legislation brought sewage treatment systems to many parts of the U.S., improved the quality of water supplies, and returned people to rivers to swim, fish, and boat. While challenges remain to meeting all its objectives, without the Act "our rivers, streams, lakes and coastal waters would be in very different condition today," Dzombak says.

November 12, 2012

Decision tool for farmers: bottom line on energy crops

Madhu Khanna

photo: Carl Wycoff

Is growing energy crops a profitable option? What's a farmer's cost to convert from growing current crops? Madhu Khanna (2009) and a colleague have developed an online calculator to help farmers as they navigate rising interest in bioenergy crops such as switchgrass and miscanthus. With the calculator, farmers can estimate the costs and the breakeven price of changing crops, based on factors such as their location, their current farming operation and expenses, and the type of energy crop they plan to grow. “We wanted to create a calculator so farmers would be able to make their own assessment,” Khanna says.

October 9, 2012

Restoring a forest icon

Steven Handel

photo: Daderot

The American chestnut was once common throughout the eastern woodlands of the US until it was nearly wiped out by a fungus in the first half of the 20th century. Steven Handel (2001) is engaged in an effort with individuals, NGOs, agencies, and universities in 25 states to prevent extinction of the tree by developing a fungus-resistant hybrid. The initiative will have benefits beyond preserving an important cultural symbol. “Our world is changing, and the more species we have, the greater chance our native forests can survive,” Handel says.