delware environmental institute

IN THE NEWS

Environmental news from Delaware and the surrounding region.

09/16/2014 -

Developing robots able to go deeper has been a technical challenge, but scientists think they are about to lick it, permitting temperature measurements of virtually the entire ocean — a milestone in science. The experts say a replacement for the pollution-measuring satellite that exploded is also an urgent priority.

While scientists scramble for better information, this might be the most important thing for citizens to know about the warming hiatus: It has happened before.

In fact, surface warming has always proceeded in fits and starts, with the longest hiatus lasting roughly 30 years, from the 1940s to the 1970s. Scientists do not really understand that one, either. But it ended, and a period of extremely rapid warming followed.

Daniel P. Schrag, a geochemist and head of Harvard’s Center for the Environment, said the inability of scientists to explain these ups and downs highlighted a deeper problem. At a time when people are causing profound changes on the planet, he said, governments had failed to invest enough in monitoring systems like satellites, causing gaping holes in the information that scientists have to work with. Even though they have the big picture right, they’re struggling to predict shifts that really matter in the near term.

“I think the most likely thing is that we’re going to see a rapid warming in the next five or 10 years,” Dr. Schrag said, “and we still won’t know why.”

UDaily: Vargas hosts Borlaug Fellow to study carbon cycle science, policy in Mexico
09/16/2014 -

Karla Toledo of the National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO) in Mexico arrived at the University of Delaware to conduct research with Rodrigo Vargas, assistant professor in UD’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences (PLSC), to review the state-of-the-art carbon cycle science and policy in Mexico.

Toledo came to UD thanks to the Norman E. Borlaug International Agriculture Science and Technology Fellowship Program funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The program promotes food security and economic growth by providing training and collaborative research opportunities to Borlaug Fellows from developing and middle-income countries.

Toledo will spend 10 weeks at UD before returning to Mexico, with Vargas in turn traveling to Mexico sometime in the near future to continue the collaboration. “The idea is that the fellow will have developed a skill applied to the place where he or she works and that this will strengthen the international collaborations of the University,” said Vargas.

With global challenges requiring new international partnerships and solutions, UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) is always looking for ways to collaborate with researchers in developing countries.

09/11/2014 -

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey rushed into the field and installed dozens of high-tech sensors designed to pick up tide levels and storm surge in the days before Superstorm Sandy hit in late October 2012. But safety concerns and equipment issues kept them from getting to every site.

"By the time we finished deploying sensors," said Mark R. Nardi, a geographer with the survey based in Dover, "the wind was starting to pick up and the first rain was starting to come ashore."

We ended up in Ocean City, Maryland. The last site we wanted to deploy was on the state park pier on the south end Isle of Wight off of Rt 90. It was dark and rainy by the time we got there and in the end we decided against putting the sensor out."

Now Nardi and a team of researchers are setting up the sensor network system in advance thanks to a grant in the federal Superstorm Sandy relief package.

The idea, Nardi said, is to pre-stage the equipment and do the necessary survey work now, when the weather is calm and fair.

Then, when a storm is forecast, scientists can deploy each sensor at each predetermined location in a matter of minutes.

The project is part of the survey's Integrated Surge, Wave and Tide Hydrodynamic Network. Several types of sensors and monitoring tools will be deployed, Nardi said.

Some will collect data on wind and water levels every five minutes and others will sample wave action every 2.4 seconds. Those sensors will collect and store the data and then, within 36 hours after they are collected, the findings will be posted online for researchers, government officials and the public, Nardi said.

NSF: Mercury in the world's oceans: On the rise
09/11/2014 -

Little was known about how much mercury in the environment was the result of human activities, or how much "bioavailable" mercury was in the world's oceans. Until now.

The first direct calculation of mercury pollution in the world's oceans, based on data from 12 oceanographic sampling cruises during the last eight years, is reported in this week's issue of the journal Nature.

The scientists involved are affiliated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts, Wright State University in Ohio, the Observatoire Midi-Pyréneés in France and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research in the Netherlands.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the European Research Council. It was led by WHOI marine chemist Carl Lamborg. The results offer a look at the global distribution of mercury in the marine environment.

"Mercury is an environmental poison that's detectable wherever we look for it, including the ocean abyss," says Don Rice, director of the NSF's Chemical Oceanography Program.

"These scientists have reminded us that the problem is far from abatement, especially in regions of the world's oceans where the human fingerprint is most distinct."

Mercury is a naturally occurring element as well as a by-product of such human activities as burning coal and making cement.

"If we want to regulate mercury emissions into the environment and in the food we eat, we should first know how much is there and how much human activity is adding every year," says Lamborg.

09/11/2014 -

It is low tide along the Mispillion River at a rapidly receding mudflat near the inlet to Delaware Bay. Josh Moody and a team of scientists and volunteers are working to hold the shoreline in place and maybe even build upon it using nature as a guide.

"Historically, in the pictures, you can see it's moving back," Moody said of this marsh.

Their tools to fight that: coconut fiber logs, bags of oyster shells, wetland plants and 30-pound, Lego-like blocks that connect together. They are called "oyster castles" and from a distance, they really do look like whimsical castles on a muddy beach.

With less wetland, the adjacent DuPont Nature Center is at risk, increasing flooding in the area and taking away a valuable habitat for birds, fish, crabs and surprisingly, oysters.

The Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, working with state environmental officials, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and nonprofits, see this ecologically fragile site as a test plot for Living Shorelines. They also are building two other demonstration and study shorelines in Coastal Delaware – another along the Lewes & Rehoboth Canal and a third at Indian River Inlet. Those two projects cost a total of $125,000. The Mispillion project, which is larger, will cost around $100,000.

Moody, the restoration coordinator for the estuary program, said the Mispillion site uses four different living shoreline configurations because scientists want to see which is most effective along an eroding saltmarsh. There are the coconut fiber logs alone; the logs surrounded by oyster shell; bags of oyster shell; and the oyster castles.

09/09/2014 -

Delaware is again among the states leading the nation in solar energy – ranked 7th per capita for cumulative solar installations – according to a report released today by Environment America Research & Policy Center, Lighting the Way: The Top Ten States that Helped Drive America’s Solar Energy Boom in 2013. The report attributed Delaware’s leadership, energy legislation, strong public policies and innovative financing options for the solar boom in the state.

“Encouraging solar power is the right thing to do for the environment and our economy,” said Governor Jack Markell. “We are aggressively working toward a clean energy future in Delaware, demonstrating we can have both a strong economy and a healthy environment. That means creating a robust market for solar and other clean energy systems, creating clean energy jobs, expanding our solar industry, and improving air quality.”

According to the report, solar energy has tripled nationwide in America between 2011 and 2013. The price of solar energy is falling rapidly, and more and more Americans are reaping the benefits of solar’s clean, sustainable, locally-generated power.

09/04/2014 -

Delaware taxpayers are out $8 million and growing, and the odds of a payback have dwindled as the state heads to an appeals board for its first environmental "chronic violator" declaratio

09/04/2014 -

Across the farmlands of America, there are acres upon acres of corn. Corn planted over roads that used to subdivide cropland. Corn planted on ground once considered too wet for cultivation.

09/04/2014 -

The issue, something many weren’t even aware of until recently, became hard to ignore after the derailment of a train that spilled more than a million and a half gallons of oil in Lac-Magéntic, Quebec in July of last year. That derailment led to an explosion that killed 47 people and destroyed much of the town.

09/04/2014 -

In the time and a place for everything category, brown marmorated stink bugs have it nailed.

From spring through summer, they are drawn to one another and send out a chemical signal – a specialized, brown marmorated stink bug pheromone – that alerts other stink bugs, young and old, to come hither.

A team of researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Service in Beltsville, Maryland has isolated the chemical and is testing it in the field, as nearby as Elkton, Maryland, where it is being tested in traps at Milburn Orchards.

For Elkton farmer Nathan Milburn, the pheromone that is being tested is a new tool in his integrated pest management program at the orchard and one that can help him know when the insects are building to levels where they could jeopardize his fruit crops.