The Arctic is Opening Up: Offshore Drilling and Melting Sea Ice

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

The heat is on in the Arctic. This region is now warming at a rate faster than twice the global average—known as Arctic amplification. Consequently, the ice that covers the North Pole and surrounding areas, and melts to its lowest extent each September, has been disappearing at an alarming rate. Continue reading

Insidious Danger: Microplastics Pollute Aquatic Life and Harm Our Food Supply

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

microplastic on blk bkgrnd

Microplastics in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program, CC BY-NC 2.0.

Microplastics—the tiny bits of plastic that are now infamously and ubiquitously present in the world’s waterways—are polluting aquatic life and ending up in our food supply. As evidence of the damage that microplastics inflict on aquatic life accumulates, so does the amount of microplastics dispersed in oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers. Virtually indestructible in natural environments, these tiny bits of plastic contain a combination of very small particles—microparticles and nanoparticles—that derive from the breakdown of larger plastic items, for example plastic bags and bottles, and include, among others, pre-production plastic pellets (the so-called nurdles), microbeads from personal care products, and microfibers from textiles.

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Methane Leaks: The Big and the Small

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

By emitting just a little bit of methane, mankind is greatly accelerating the rate of climatic change” – Steven Hamburg, Chief Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund

gas flare

Orvis State natural gas flare head, Evanson Place, Arnegard North Dakota. Credit: Tim Evanson, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Methane, the primary ingredient of natural gas, has been receiving more bad press than usual lately—courtesy of the massive natural gas leak that erupted on Oct. 23, 2015, at the Aliso Canyon underground storage facility near Los Angeles. California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency, and thousands of families were evacuated. After unsuccessful initial attempts to plug the leak, Southern California Gas Company was finally able to build a relief well to capture the leaking gas. On February 18, 2016, nearly four months later, officials announced the leak had been permanently sealed.

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The “Microbead-Free Waters Act”: Saying Goodbye to the Tiny Plastic Fragments That Pollute Our Waterways

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

microplastics

Microplastics, including microbeads. Credit: MPCA Photos, CC BY-NC 2.0.

Microbeads—tiny, plastic beads added to face scrubs, soap, toothpaste, and the like—cause environmental damage at the macro scale. Their function is to provide a bit of grit, but they end up in lakes, rivers, and other aquatic habitats. Once there, microbeads are mistaken for food and gobbled up by zooplankton, thus becoming incorporated into the aquatic food chain. Small fish, and other organisms that swallow the contaminated zooplankton, are eaten by bigger fish and eventually, microbeads make their way to the top of the food chain, reaching other wildlife and even humans. However, there is more to this story. Continue reading

Let’s Look at Past Successes to Encourage the Vision of a Brighter Environmental Future

A guest post by Brock B. Bernstein

Pervasive doom and gloom dominates much of the popular news about the environment. Global warming, sea level rise, ocean acidification, drought, wildfires, overfishing, or overpopulation—it all contributes to a feeling of despair and hopelessness, particularly among young people. This struck home for me on a personal level during a recent conversation with my college-aged son and a few of his friends—they felt they were “totally screwed” because of the inevitable impacts of climate change.

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Clean Power Plan, New Ozone Standard, and Asthma

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Syncrude smokestacks

Out with the old: Syncrude facility. Credit: Pembina Institute, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On August 3, 2015, the Obama administration announced the finalized US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Clean Power Plan.” The plan has been developed under the Clean Air Act and aims to slash carbon emissions from US power plants, which account for one-third of all carbon emissions in the country, by giving each state an individual goal for cutting these emissions. The EPA estimates that the new national standards will significantly decrease carbon pollution produced by the electric sector by 2030; carbon emissions will be 32% lower than the 2005 levels. For a step-by-step guide on how the Clean Power Plan works, head here. Continue reading

Fracking and Groundwater Contamination: The Known and the Unknowns

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Peak oil, or peak water? Peak water might be the (unfortunate) answer. Alternative sources of energy may become more widely available, but there are no alternatives to water. The ongoing depletion of groundwater contained in aquifers—one of the most important sources of water on our planet—is a significant threat to our future. Many countries are already near or beyond peak water, and results from recent studies show that significant segments of Earth’s population are consuming groundwater all too quickly, without knowing when it might run out. Continue reading