Archive for Article

Turning Water to Gold

It might be Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, or perhaps Colorado’s Garden of the Gods. The eerie landscape, tucked into the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada, boasts spectacular topography. California park ranger Ken Huie flashes an ironic smile. “Isn’t nature wonderful?” he says jokingly.

animas-river-mine-waste-water-jpegIn fact, the striking sculptures of Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park are not the handiwork of Mother Nature, but of her children. Dating back a mere 140 years, their haunting if hideous beauty testifies to an early case of environmental assault—but one in which the good guys finally won. Here was fought one of the first successful environmental lawsuits in U.S. history. Read more

NASA Wants to Take a Closer Look at the Water on Jupiter’s Moon

When scientists scan the universe for distant planets, one thing they’re looking for is whether a planet is orbiting in a location where water can be liquid. When NASA and other agencies send probes and orbiters to Mars, one of their overriding goals is to search for water. On Earth, where we find water, we find life. All this makes our lack of focus on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons and a place where we know for sure that there is water, more than a little confusing.

EuropaFortunately, that seems to be changing. In the White House’s tentative 2015 budget for NASA, says Adam Mann for Wired, is a provision to start planning work for a mission to Europa. The proposed budget “includes funding for ‘pre-formulation work’ on a mission that would fly by Europa, make detailed observations, and perhaps sample its interior ocean,” says Mann. The amount of money expected won’t be enough to actually go to Europa, but it may be enough to start taking the idea seriously. Read more

The Trouble with Bottled Water

In the spring of 2007, the quietly simmering backlash against bottled water began to boil. Responding to well-organized pressure groups, first one, and then a dozen cities across the nation canceled their contracts for bottled-water delivery. Upscale restaurants struck fancy waters from their menus, and college students conducted taste tests intended to prove, once and for all, that most people can’t tell the difference between bottled water and tap.

bottleSuddenly bottled water was big news. Every time I opened a newspaper, magazine or Web browser, there was another story announcing that this harmless indulgence is anything but. On the lookout for this sort of material, I nearly drowned in the tidal wave of eco-criticism. With a mounting sense of anticipation—how far will the attacks go?—I watched as reporters, using statistics from academics and environmental groups, blasted away at the bottled-water industry. But curiously, their focus wasn’t water, at first. It was oil. Read more

Watching Water Run

It is the hot, dark heart of summer in this small town that I love. Fireworks have been going off sporadically for several nights, and the teenagers next door are playing water polo in the afternoons in the swimming pool their professor parents built for them this year.

001Down the street a 4-year-old girl is riding her tricycle madly around the circular driveway of her parents’ home. It seems only yesterday that I walked by the house one morning and saw a pink ribbon on the mailbox. Now she is a tricycle racer, her long curly hair hanging rakishly down over her eyes, her concentration and speed all you need to know about the power of our species. Read more

How Can We Keep Track of Earth’s Invisible Water?

It’s no secret that Earth is a wet and wild place—from grade school onward, most people can readily cite the fact that water covers about 70 percent of the planet’s surface. And images taken from space show our home world as a “blue marble” awash in oceans, rivers and lakes.

001But life on Earth depends on a lot of water that we can’t see, from vapor in the air we breathe to freshwater in deep aquifers used to irrigate crops. Figuring out where this water came from, where it is now, how it moves around and how humans are affecting its flow will be critical to management of this most precious resource. Read more