Companies Could Profit from Setting Water Targets Informed by Science

irrigation_1The private sector is starting to feel the pain of the global water crisis. Last year, the World Economic Forum ranked water crises as the most damaging short-term risk, and this year, as the top global risk to industry and society over the next decade. In 2015 alone, 27 percent of companies disclosing to CDP Water reported detrimental water-related business impacts, including loss of revenue, increased capital expenditure, and decreasing profits, to name a few.

At the Paris climate summit in December, 114 multinational companies joined together in committing to use the best science as the basis for setting greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.  Targets informed by science might well be effective in reducing risks posed by water as well. Read more

Soaring Temps in West Antarctica May Fuel Sea Level Rise

Temperatures in West Antarctica are have increased by 4.3°F over the past 50 years or so, according to a new paper released Sunday in Nature Geoscience. That increase is far more than scientists have thought, and nearly as much as the 5°F rise on the nearby Antarctic Peninsula, the fastest-warming region on Earth.

It’s a cause for serious concern, say the study’s authors: West Antarctica holds enough fresh water to raise sea level by 11 feet if all the ice melted, and even a fraction of that amount could prove catastrophic to coastal areas where hundreds of millions of people live.

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Credit: University of Washington

In fact, the 8 inches or so of sea level rise the world has experienced since 1900 is already enough to have boosted the power of storm surges, put pressure on infrastructure in places like South Florida and exposed millions of Americans to the danger of coastal flooding. The 3 feet of additional rise expected by 2100 will make all of these problems vastly worse.

West Antarctica currently adds just a tenth of the current .18 inches of annual sea level rise scientists have measured. But, “if this trend continues, its contribution to sea level rise, could become significant. Not today or tomorrow, but a few decades in the future,” said lead author David Bromwich, of Ohio State University, in an interview. Read more

Sea Level Suit Returns to San Francisco Courtroom

The village of about 400 residents sits exposed on a barrier island in the Chukchi Sea. In 2008, local officials filed a federal lawsuit against about two dozen corporate entities, including ExxonMobil, BP and San Ramon-based Chevron Corp., claiming that coastal erosion was forcing the town to relocate.

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Kivalina, Alaska. Credit: US Army Corps. of Engineers

The original case was dismissed — but on Monday, the case lands in San Francisco’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the town’s lawyers will again argue that major oil and power companies are responsible for the threatening rise in sea level, as the result of their collective greenhouse gas emissions. The appearance is timely, as only a week ago a major Arctic storm reportedly caused some damage to the settlement. (See Climate Central’s coverage of the Alaskan storm).

The current body of case law doesn’t offer the Kivalina elders much encouragement. Apart from their own suit’s dismissal, the US Supreme Court recently tossed a similar suit filed by California and other states, seeking carbon emissions caps on power companies’ coal-fired plants. The town’s lawsuit is supported by the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, which recently took California air officials to court over implementation of the state’s developing cap & trade program to reduce carbon emissions. Read more

Tidal Energy Tests the Waters

For eons, powerful tides have raged through Puget Sound, ripping along at 11 feet per second at their peak, predictable as the phases of the moon. 

Three years from now, a local utility hopes to begin converting a portion of that raw energy to electricity, part of a growing effort to harness the tides to power homes and businesses miles from the smell of salt air.

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What does it take to harness the power of the tides? Something like this marine turbine, pictured above, of which there are two currently installed in a narrow tidal passage of Admiralty Inlet in Wash. Credit: Snohomish County PUD.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District’s pilot project is small — two turbines with 500 kilowatts of total capacity and an average output of 50 kilowatts — hardly a panacea for all that ails the United States’ energy portfolio. But tidal power is garnering increasing attention as a niche supplier of renewable alternative energy in Washington, Maine and Alaska. The tides, some say, have the potential to light five percent of the nation’s homes — nearly nine gigawatts of generating power.

And with wind and solar increasingly seen as viable commercial energy alternatives in the United States, investors and public utilities also seem more willing to literally test tidal energy’s waters.  Read more

Self-healing bioplastic – just add water

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A sample of the self-healing polymer

Imagine if things like undersea cables or medical implants could simply heal themselves back together if severed – it would certainly be easier than having to go in and fix them. Well, scientists at Pennsylvania State University are bringing such a possibility closer to reality. They’ve created a moldable polymer that heals itself when exposed to water – and it’s based on squid sucker ring teeth.

Led by Prof. Melik Demirel, the researchers started by studying sucker ring teeth collected from squid in various locations around the world. Although the exact composition of the teeth varied between species, it was found that the same proteins which allow them to self-heal were always present. Read more