California’s Water Shortage

A new paper published in Nature Climate Change, by NASA water scientist James Famiglietti, presents the chilling reality of California’s ongoing drought crisis. “The Global Groundwater Crisis,” uses satellite data to measure the depletion of the world’s aquifers, and summarizes the effects this has on the environment.

These aquifers contain groundwater that more than 2 billion individuals rely on as their primary source of water. Groundwater is also essential, as it is one of the main sources we rely on to irrigate food crops. In times of drought, the lack of rain and snow results in less surface water (the water that settles in lakes, streams, and rivers). Thus, farmers must rely on available groundwater to irrigate their crops, leading to rapid depletion in areas of high farming concentration.

California’s Central Valley has been one of the most effected regions in the state. The map below depicts groundwater withdrawals in California during the first three years of the state’s ongoing drought.

CA-drought

Images by J.T. Reager, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, from “The Global Groundwater Crisis,” Nature Climate Change, November 2014, by James S. Famiglietti

 

According to James Famiglietti, “California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins have lost roughly 15 cubic kilometers of total water per year since 2011.”  That means “more water than all 38 million Californians use for domestic and municipal supplies annually—over half of which is due to groundwater pumping in the Central Valley.”

As more water is pumped from the aquifers, things can only get worse. As this trend continues, wells will have to be dug deeper, resulting in increased pumping costs. This, in turn, will lead to a higher salt contents, which inhibits crop yields and can eventually cause soil to lose productivity altogether. Over time, Famiglietti writes, “inequity issues arise because only the relatively wealthy can bear the expense of digging deeper wells, paying greater energy costs to pump groundwater from increased depths and treating the lower-quality water that is often found deeper within aquifers.” This problem is already apparent in California’s Central Valley.  Some low-income residents are forced to let their wells go dry, while many other farmers are forced to irrigate with salty water pumped from deep in the aquifer.

The lesson we can learn from Famiglietti’s research is that “Groundwater is being pumped at far greater rates than it can be naturally replenished, so that many of the largest aquifers on most continents are being mined, their precious contents never to be returned.”  This problem of diminishing groundwater is perpetuated, due the lack of forethought, regulation, or research concerning this water source. Famiglietti contends that if current trends hold, “groundwater supplies in some major aquifers will be depleted in a matter of decades.”

Without any change of practices, we can expect steeper droughts and more demand for water. Famiglietti suggests that if we ever plan on getting the situation under control, we must start carefully measuring groundwater and treat it like the precious resource that it is. However, if the globe continues on this path without any adjustment, it will most likely result in civil uprising and international violent conflict in the water-stressed regions of the world.

UN Report – Irreversible Climate Change Deadline

The latest United Nations’ world climate report states that greenhouse gas emissions will need to stop by 2100 or the world will face irreversible change.

The final report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) includes the findings from the three previous reports, and includes more than 30,000 independent studies about climate. The bottom line conclusion is a 95 percent accurate assessment that climate change is both real and almost entirely man-made. It also states that if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, the results will be irreversible. Effects will include even hotter years than the recent record setting ones, rising sea levels, agricultural disruption, and even potential changes in the male-female population ratios.

The physical changes outlined in the report won’t be the limit to the secondary societal changes. Famine and drought have already exasperated issues in parts of Africa, and rising human migration from areas affected by climate change will cause even more conflicts between nation states. The rise in heat will also cause increases in health issues.

2014 may be the hottest year on record, and if the heat trends continue, growing regions will change, causing untold potential economic disruption to traditional agricultural areas. Coastal towns and resort communities could find themselves underwater and forced to move inland to higher elevations or forcing never-ending construction of offshore breakwaters.

The primary conclusion from the IPCC report is that all countries will need to reduce, and eventually halt, use of fossil fuels and move to renewable and environmentally friendly sources of energy. And while twenty-eight European nations have agreed to reduce emissions to almost half of their 1990 levels in the next fifteen years, the United States still hasn’t even come to a political agreement between Republican and Democrats if climate change is even real.

Decisions made in the next couple of decades by politicians and citizens around the world will determine if this “irreversible” deadline in going to be met with change or if we’ll be walking into 2100 different world than we are now.

Locus Technologies Introduces Locus Mobile for Data Access and Input On the Go

Native iOS app for environmental, health, safety and sustainability field data collection. Get real-time connection with your data and do data validation on the go.

Native iOS app for environmental, health, safety and sustainability field data collection. Get real-time connection with your data and perform data validation on the go.

Locus Mobile is designed for easy and accurate data collection on the go.

Locus Mobile on the go…  Locus Mobile works both online and offline to ensure continuous access and interaction, and takes advantage of the most advanced technology to provide a variety of options for ad hoc sampling, additional field data checks, dynamic forms, and effective mapping tools. Locus Mobile users can easily configure business-specific data collection needs, enter data offline and upload on-demand, and synchronize data back to Locus’ systems for final review, storing, managing, and reporting.

We are seeing growing customer interest in adding mobility to our full-line of environmental and sustainability information management applications to more efficiently centralize remotely collected information for executive decision-support reporting. Locus Mobile allows users to push information the other way so that remote personnel are empowered with the information and instructions they need to take appropriate preventative and remedial action on the ground, perform real-time data validation, and spot exceedances. As a result of this more frictionless two-way data flow, Locus mobile will completely transform the way enterprises address their environmental and sustainability challenges and achieve positive outcomes for the environment, brand protection, and their shareholders and customers.

Locus Mobile is offered as a downloadable app from the Apple App Store to work with Locus’ cloud software systems.

Download it here: Locus Mobile App Store

NASA now says massive methane cloud over U.S. southwest is legitimate

Several years ago, NASA scientists discovered a cloud of methane gas over the Four Corners of the American southwest that measured about the size of Delaware. The unusually high readings were dismissed then; however, a new study today confirms that the methane hot spot is legitimate.

methane-gas-plume

“We didn’t focus on it because we weren’t sure if it was a true signal or an instrument error,” said NASA research scientist Christian Frankenberg, who works in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, California.

The Christian Science Monitor website states that a 2,500 square mile methane cloud over the region where Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona connect traps more heat in a 1-year period than all of Sweden’s annual carbon dioxide emissions.

To provide an overview of gases that endanger the Earth’s atmosphere, methane gas is the most powerful of the greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide is another greenhouse gas, and is more abundant in our atmosphere. However, methane is more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide.

A new study published 10 October 2014 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters takes a look at the data discovered several years ago and confirms what we now know to be North America’s largest methane hot spot. According to lead author of the study, Eric Kort, a professor of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the source of the methane is from extensive coal mining activity in the San Juan Basin. According to Kort, the Basin is “the most active coalbed methane production area in the country.”

There has been a notable increase in fracking in that region. Both Kort and Frankenberg believe that the earlier coal mining is most likely to blame for the methane cloud.  From 2003 to 2009, the study shows there were 0.59 million metric tons of methane released each year — 3.5 times more than previous estimates.

According to Kort, “The results are indicative that emissions from established fossil fuel harvesting techniques are greater than inventoried. There’s been so much attention on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but we need to consider the industry as a whole.”

Cities Band Together to Curb Their Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The United Nations is calling this the largest banded effort to decrease cities’ greenhouse gas emissions. On 23 September 2014, the UN launched a Global Compact of Mayors, the world’s largest effort for fighting climate change on the city level. The Compact of Mayors has set goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 454 tonnes by 2020.

During the UN Climate Summit 2014 in NYC, Mayor of the South African city of Johannesburg, Mpho Franklyn Parks Tau said, “In many ways, cities all over the world are leading the way by example: not only setting ambitious emission reduction targets, but [also] working collaboratively to help each other to achieve our respective goals.”

Tao goes on to tell SciDev.Net that this “places a collective responsibility on all of us because we are accountable to each other. As partners, we can also tap into the knowledge and expertise of other cities that have the same objectives.” Tau cites that 15 cities, including Copenhagen, London, and Washington DC, have committed to cut their emissions by more than 70% by 2050.

rea-vayaTo pave the way, Johannesburg is now generating, rather than using, electricity while treating their sewage, and they continue expanding their Rea Vaya rapid transport system to reduce the city’s carbon footprint by decreasing the use of personal cars.

The Integrated Program on Sustainable Cities was launched by The Global Environment Facility (GEF) at the summit, which commits $100 million to establish a common platform for cities to access and share solutions on climate change adaptation and mitigation, energy, transport and water. South and South-East Asia cities are leading the way in climate-proofing.

Locus’ Intellus Site Creates Big Data Transparency in the Cloud; Millions of Environmental Data Records are Now Publicly Available

Through the Locus EIM platform public facing website, Intellus, the general public can now access remediation and environmental data records associated with the Office of Environmental Management’s (EM’s) legacy nuclear cleanup program.

Containing more than 14 million records, Locus’ Intellus has consolidated Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL’s) information that was previously handled in multiple independent databases. The centralized, cloud-based solution directly attributed to an estimated $15 million in cost savings for LANL through 2015.

The public facing site also ensures users have real-time access to the most recent data. The same data that scientists and analysts use to base important environmental stewardship decisions off of. Through tools and capabilities such as automated electronic data validation, interactive maps, and the ability to include data from other third-party providers and environmental programs, Intellus provides the ultimate platform to view LANL’s environmental data without compromising the core EIM system that LANL scientists use on a daily basis.

Intellus screen shot

Locus has always advocated for the power of data transparency via the cloud. When you apply the most extensive security protocols to a cloud-based system, it can be a winning combination for data management and public trust.

To learn more about how Intellus made millions of environmental records available to the public, view the article published on energy.gov here.

World’s Top Emitters Acknowledge Their Responsibility for Climate Change

smokestackAt the U.N. Climate Summit on Tuesday, President Obama candidly admitted to American responsibility in global warming, and promised to unveil an ambitious plan over the next year to combat it.

Obama was not alone in his promise of change; the summit served as a launching pad for international agreements to reduce global emissions. Following Obama was Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, who stated his intentions for China to reach a peak in its greenhouse gases “as soon as possible” followed by a plan to scale back thereafter.

Tentative optimism brewed after the announcements by the world’s top two emitters of greenhouse gases. Following years of little to no commitment on confronting the problem, even skeptics seemed impressed. Executive director of the Sierra Club stated, “I don’t like to defend the U.S. administration’s climate policy, and there’s still a lot to be done, but what I heard the president say today was that we need to lead.”

While Obama recognized the United States’ current leadership role in the effort to cut emissions, he called for even more aggressive action to confront climate change and curtail greenhouse gas emissions, especially in developing nations.

“We recognize our role in creating this problem,” Obama stated, “We embrace responsibility to help combat it. Nobody gets a pass.”

Obama was warmly received after addressing American responsibility and revealing his meeting with Zhang before taking the stage to confirm, “my belief that as the two largest economies and emitters in the world, we have a special responsibility to lead. That’s what big nations have to do.”

The summit was held at a time of uncertainty when it comes to global climate change. With the world being at an all-time high for global emissions of greenhouse gases, the serious need for change was definitely understood.

The Obama administration offered a glimpse of the future with the introduction of two international programs. The president released a new executive order that requires federal agencies in the U.S. to consider climate resilience when working on international development and investments. He also called for an initiative among these agencies to make data used for weather shift predictions available in developing nations.

With the introduction of these two international programs, and the promise of plans to cut emissions by the world’s two largest emitters, everyone will be watching the U.S. and China over the next year and expecting further progress to be made.

The People’s Climate March Hits Grand Scales Worldwide

half earth covers with city and grassThe streets of New York City, and of cities across the globe were taken over by protesters on Sunday, September 21st in what has become the largest climate change protest in history. The timing of the event was scheduled to make a statement to political leaders meeting on Tuesday, September 23rd. Today’s summit, hosted by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has been described as the most high-profile global meeting focused on climate change in years.

Prior to the summit, an estimated over 300,000 people joined the New York march alone, in addition to reportedly over 2,800 events scheduled worldwide, with cities such as Perth, Melbourne, London, Dublin, and Johannesburg being among some of the largest demonstrations outside of NYC.

The march originated from an idea made public by professor and activist Bill McKibben as a way to push for grand scale actions to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Though there were no celebrity speakers, the marches were joined by some high profile individuals, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and former Vice President Al Gore.

“The stakes are the future of the planet,” Mckibben stated. “And so far, we’ve seen essentially no action from world leaders that matter on this question.”

This call for action has already been heard by New York City’s mayor Bill de Blasio, who also joined in the march this past weekend. He then announced a plan for New York City to release 80 percent less greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.

His plan will focus first on buildings, which are responsible for over half of New York’s emissions, and it will not be easy, calling for large installations and renovations to be made on existing buildings. The plan highlights economic benefits that will result from the target of “80 by 50” including hundreds of new jobs, and career growth opportunities. The reduction of energy use would also save New Yorkers an estimated $1.4 billion each year.

De Blasio’s huge announcement sets high hopes for the impact the march will have on leaders attending the summit on Tuesday. Jessica Hellman, a professor at Notre Dame stated the march “sends a strong message that everyone is affected by climate change.”

“We can still avert catastrophic change if we act quickly to reinvent our economy and our relationship to the Earth, but we must also find ways to live with the climate change that has already started,” she states. “Corporations and the development community are already helping the world to adapt, but these efforts are not enough.”

The actions already announced by de Blasio have Hellman and other protesters hoping for similar reactions by attendees of the summit on Tuesday.

U.N. Report Finds Largest CO2 Emissions Increase in 30 Years

Locus Air and Greenhouse Gases Earth Sun TiltLast week, the United Nation’s weather agency released a report stating that more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases were released into our atmosphere between 2012 and 2013 than any other year since 1984; a finding that the United Nation claims puts us on the fast track for irreversible global warming.

The annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin composed by The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) showed that the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere from 2012 to 2013 was 2.9 parts per million, which is the largest increase in 30 years. Due to this increase, the atmospheric CO2 average has grown to 399 parts per million- just 9 ppm away from reaching a troublesome level, according to various scientists. It is believed that if we should reach this level, we could experience sea level rise, drought, and weather severe enough to significantly harm human populations worldwide.

The WMO Secretary General Michel Jarraud stated, “The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that, far from falling, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere actually increased last year at the fastest rate for nearly 30 years,” continuing, “We must reverse this trend by cutting emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases across the board. We are running out of time.”

The WMO also expressed concerns of ocean acidification that causes large-scale die-offs of calcifying organisms such as coral, algae, mollusks, and plankton, and a general decrease in biodiversity. The report notes that the ocean currently absorbs about one quarter of human caused CO2 emissions, which has reduced the amount in the atmosphere. However, the ocean’s capacity to soak up carbon is decreasing rapidly.

Wendy Watson-Wright, the executive secretary of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO said, “If global warming is not a strong enough reason to cut CO2 emissions, ocean acidification should be, since its effects are already being felt and will increase for many decades to come.”

According to the report, other concentrations are also on the rise. The report stated that atmospheric methane reached a record high of about 1824 parts per billion in 2013, with most of these emissions coming from human activity such as natural gas production and industrial agriculture.

Fortunately, according to the WMO, action can be taken to reduce the atmospheric carbon levels to prevent catastrophic global warming through cooperative international policymaking. The WMO asked policymakers to use this report as a “scientific base for decision-making” to help prevent these dangerous consequences.

Water Scarcity Shines Spotlight on the Fracking Industry

Shale Gas in PAThe World Resources Institute (WRI) has released a report that highlights the potential for water scarcity to put a halt on fracking among the world’s top 20 shale countries.

In one of these countries—the United States—fracking has been used for years. However, new technology has enabled companies to drill deeper and horizontally, allowing fracking in more populated areas than ever before. These modern fracking techniques require millions more gallons per well of water, resulting in millions more gallons of contaminated wastewater. This increased amount of water usage results in two major causes for concern: water scarcity, and groundwater contamination.

Adding to this concern, the WRI report states that 38 percent of the world’s shale resources are found in areas that are water barren or “under high to extremely high levels of water stress”, and 40 percent of countries with the largest shale reserves have severely limited freshwater sources. With the spotlight being shined brighter than ever on fracking’s relationship with water, the WRI has compiled a list of actions for these operations to take in order to help preserve the integrity of water supplies. The list is made up of four recommendations.

First, the WRI suggests conducting water risk assessments to understand local water availability and reduce business risk. Next, increase transparency and engage with local regulators, communities, and industry to minimize uncertainty and ensure adequate water governance to guarantee the security of the water and reduce risks. The last action the WRI recommends is minimizing freshwater use and engaging in corporate water stewardship to reduce impacts on water availability.

Current findings and water shortages suggest an urgent need for improved monitoring and transparency for operations within the fracking industry. Using a centralized system for managing crucial fracking information can increase transparency, improve compliance with current regulations, and better protect the quality and quantity of the world’s water supplies.