The Urbanization of the Eastern Gray Squirrel in the United States
Source: Journal of American History
The urbanization of the gray squirrel in the United States between the mid-nineteenth century and the early twentieth century was an ecological and cultural process that changed the squirrels’ ways of life, altered the urban landscape, and adjusted human understandings of nature, the city, and the boundaries of community. Squirrels were part of the new complex of human-animal relationships that emerged in the American city at the turn of the twentieth century as laboring animals were replaced by machines, and as dairy, meat, and egg production and processing were shifted to the urban margins. Accounts of urban squirrels in newspapers, magazines, scientific journals, diaries, and other sources provide evidence of these changes and of the development of a new understanding of community that crossed species borders to include some types of animals and exclude some types of humans. These sources help explain why Bailey and many others saw the eastern gray squirrel not merely as an interesting object of nature study but also as a morally significant member of the urban community
Evaluation of exposure to contaminated drinking water and specific birth defects and childhood cancers at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina: a case–control study
<strong>Evaluation of exposure to contaminated drinking water and specific birth defects and childhood cancers at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina: a case–control study
Source: Environmental Health (CDC)
Drinking water supplies at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune were contaminated with trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene, benzene, vinyl chloride and trans-1,2-dichloroethylene during 1968 through 1985.
We conducted a case control study to determine if children born during 1968–1985 to mothers with residential exposure to contaminated drinking water at Camp Lejeune during pregnancy were more likely to have childhood hematopoietic cancers, neural tube defects (NTDs), or oral clefts. For cancers, exposures during the first year of life were also evaluated. Cases and controls were identified through a survey of parents residing on base during pregnancy and confirmed by medical records. Controls were randomly sampled from surveyed participants who had a live birth without a major birth defect or childhood cancer. Groundwater contaminant fate and transport and distribution system models provided estimates of monthly levels of drinking water contaminants at mothers’ residences. Magnitude of odds ratios (ORs) was used to assess associations. Confidence intervals (CIs) were used to indicate precision of ORs. We evaluated parental characteristics and pregnancy history to assess potential confounding.
Confounding was negligible so unadjusted results were presented. For NTDs and average 1st trimester exposures, ORs for any benzene exposure and for trichloroethylene above 5 parts per billion were 4.1 (95% CI: 1.4-12.0) and 2.4 (95% CI: 0.6-9.6), respectively. For trichloroethylene, a monotonic exposure response relationship was observed. For childhood cancers and average 1st trimester exposures, ORs for any tetrachloroethylene exposure and any vinyl chloride exposure were 1.6 (95% CI: 0.5-4.8), and 1.6 (95% CI: 0.5-4.7), respectively. The study found no evidence suggesting any other associations between outcomes and exposures.
Although CIs were wide, ORs suggested associations between drinking water contaminants and NTDs. ORs suggested weaker associations with childhood hematopoietic cancers.
Grid 2020: Towards a Policy of Renewable and Distributed Energy Resources (PDF)
Source: Resnick Institute (California Institute of Technology)
This report examines the issues that clean energy policy poses to the design and operation of the current grid.
Geoengineering: Governance and Technology Policy (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
The term “geoengineering” describes an array of technologies that aim, through large-scale and deliberate modifications of the Earth’s energy balance, to reduce temperatures and counteract anthropogenic climate change. Most of these technologies are at the conceptual and research stages, and their effectiveness at reducing global temperatures has yet to be proven. Moreover, very few studies have been published that document the cost, environmental effects, sociopolitical impacts, and legal implications of geoengineering. If geoengineering technologies were to be deployed, they are expected to have the potential to cause significant transboundary effects.
In general, geoengineering technologies are categorized as either a carbon dioxide removal (CDR) method or a solar radiation management (SRM) method. CDR methods address the warming effects of greenhouse gases by removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. CDR methods include ocean fertilization, and carbon capture and sequestration. SRM methods address climate change by increasing the reflectivity of the Earth’s atmosphere or surface. Aerosol injection and space-based reflectors are examples of SRM methods. SRM methods do not remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, but can be deployed faster with relatively immediate global cooling results compared to CDR methods.
To date, there is limited federal involvement in, or oversight of, geoengineering. However, some states as well as some federal agencies, notably the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Defense, have taken actions related to geoengineering research or projects. At the international level, there is no international agreement or organization governing the full spectrum of possible geoengineering activities. Nevertheless, provisions of many international agreements, including those relating to climate change, maritime pollution, and air pollution, would likely inform the types of geoengineering activities that state parties to these agreements might choose to pursue. In 2010, the Convention on Biological Diversity adopted provisions calling for member parties to abstain from geoengineering unless the parties have fully considered the risks and impacts of those activities on biodiversity.
With the possibility that geoengineering technologies may be developed and that climate change will remain an issue of global concern, policymakers may determine whether geoengineering warrants attention at either the federal or international level. If so, policymakers will also need to consider whether geoengineering can be effectively addressed by amendments to existing laws and international agreements or, alternatively, whether new laws and international treaties would need to be developed.
Energy Policy: 113th Congress Issues (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
Energy policy in the United States has focused on three major goals: assuring a secure supply of energy, keeping energy costs low, and protecting the environment. In pursuit of those goals, government programs have been developed to improve the efficiency with which energy is utilized, to promote the domestic production of conventional energy sources, and to develop new energy sources, particularly renewable sources.
Implementing these programs has been controversial because of varying importance given to different aspects of energy policy. For some, dependence on imports of foreign oil, particularly from the Persian Gulf, is the primary concern; for others, the indiscriminate use of fossil fuels, whatever their origin, is most important. The contribution of burning fossil fuels to global climate change is particularly controversial. Another dichotomy is between those who see government intervention as a positive force and those who view it as a necessary evil at best.
Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda): U.S. and International Response to Philippines Disaster (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
This report examines the impact of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), which struck the central Philippines on November 8, 2013, and the U.S. and international response. Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) was one of the strongest typhoons (cyclones) to strike land on record. Over a 16 hour period, the “super typhoon,” with a force equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane and sustained winds of up to 195 mph, directly swept through six provinces and affected over 10% of the nation’s population of 105 million people. The areas damaged by the typhoon were some of the poorest parts of the Philippines.
Congressional concerns related to the storm and its aftermath include the immediate U.S. and international humanitarian response, the impact on the U.S. foreign aid budget, the long-term U.S. foreign aid strategy for the Philippines, and how the U.S. response to the disaster may impact the U.S.-Philippines relationship as well as regional geopolitical dynamics.
The disaster quickly created a humanitarian crisis. In some of the hardest hit areas, particularly in coastal communities in Leyte province and the southern tip of Eastern Samar, the storm knocked out power, telecommunications, and water supplies. Between 65% and 90% of structures were heavily damaged or destroyed. Two weeks after the typhoon, the Philippine government reported that an estimated 13.7 million people had been affected, with more than 3.43 million displaced (of which roughly 240,800 were housed in 1,096 evacuation centers). The government also reported that 792,000 people were evacuated in advance of the disaster. On November 25, an estimated 5,000 deaths were associated with the typhoon and more than 1,600 people were thought to be missing. All these numbers remain fluid and subject to revision.
The ongoing humanitarian relief operation is being led by the Philippine government. The United Nations, along with other partners, including the United States, is supporting the current on-theground response for humanitarian assistance. Apart from U.N. agencies, those responding to the crisis include international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Private Voluntary Agencies (PVOs), and bilateral and multilateral donors. On November 12, 2013, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs appealed for $301 million in the Haiyan Action Plan to provide life-saving assistance and early recovery support. On November 22, the Plan increased to $348 million, based on assessments completed as partners gained better access to affected areas. As of November 22, U.S. funding for the humanitarian response included nearly $52 million to support activities through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Department of Defense (DOD) humanitarian relief operations.
Previously, we demonstrated the possibility of fMRI in two awake and unrestrained dogs. Here, we determined the replicability and heterogeneity of these results in an additional 11 dogs for a total of 13 subjects. Based on an anatomically placed region-of-interest, we compared the caudate response to a hand signal indicating the imminent availability of a food reward to a hand signal indicating no reward. 8 of 13 dogs had a positive differential caudate response to the signal indicating reward. The mean differential caudate response was 0.09%, which was similar to a comparable human study. These results show that canine fMRI is reliable and can be done with minimal stress to the dogs.
EURO-CORDEX: new high-resolution climate change projections for European impact research
Source: Regional Environmental Change
A new high-resolution regional climate change ensemble has been established for Europe within the World Climate Research Program Coordinated Regional Downscaling Experiment (EURO-CORDEX) initiative. The first set of simulations with a horizontal resolution of 12.5 km was completed for the new emission scenarios RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 with more simulations expected to follow. The aim of this paper is to present this data set to the different communities active in regional climate modelling, impact assessment and adaptation. The EURO-CORDEX ensemble results have been compared to the SRES A1B simulation results achieved within the ENSEMBLES project. The large-scale patterns of changes in mean temperature and precipitation are similar in all three scenarios, but they differ in regional details, which can partly be related to the higher resolution in EURO-CORDEX. The results strengthen those obtained in ENSEMBLES, but need further investigations. The analysis of impact indices shows that for RCP8.5, there is a substantially larger change projected for temperature-based indices than for RCP4.5. The difference is less pronounced for precipitation-based indices. Two effects of the increased resolution can be regarded as an added value of regional climate simulations. Regional climate model simulations provide higher daily precipitation intensities, which are completely missing in the global climate model simulations, and they provide a significantly different climate change of daily precipitation intensities resulting in a smoother shift from weak to moderate and high intensities.
Bayesian Analysis of Epidemics – Zombies, Influenza, and other Diseases
Mathematical models of epidemic dynamics offer significant insight into predicting and controlling infectious diseases. The dynamics of a disease model generally follow a susceptible, infected, and recovered (SIR) model, with some standard modifications. In this paper, we extend the work of Munz et.al (2009) on the application of disease dynamics to the so-called “zombie apocalypse”, and then apply the identical methods to influenza dynamics. Unlike Munz et.al (2009), we include data taken from specific depictions of zombies in popular culture films and apply Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods on improved dynamical representations of the system. To demonstrate the usefulness of this approach, beyond the entertaining example, we apply the identical methodology to Google Trend data on influenza to establish infection and recovery rates. Finally, we discuss the use of the methods to explore hypothetical intervention policies regarding disease outbreaks.
Canaries in the coal mine: a cross-species analysis of the plurality of obesity epidemics
Source: Proceedings of the Royal Society
A dramatic rise in obesity has occurred among humans within the last several decades. Little is known about whether similar increases in obesity have occurred in animals inhabiting human-influenced environments. We examined samples collectively consisting of over 20 000 animals from 24 populations (12 divided separately into males and females) of animals representing eight species living with or around humans in industrialized societies. In all populations, the estimated coefficient for the trend of body weight over time was positive (i.e. increasing). The probability of all trends being in the same direction by chance is 1.2 × 10−7. Surprisingly, we find that over the past several decades, average mid-life body weights have risen among primates and rodents living in research colonies, as well as among feral rodents and domestic dogs and cats. The consistency of these findings among animals living in varying environments, suggests the intriguing possibility that the aetiology of increasing body weight may involve several as-of-yet unidentified and/or poorly understood factors (e.g. viral pathogens, epigenetic factors). This finding may eventually enhance the discovery and fuller elucidation of other factors that have contributed to the recent rise in obesity rates.
NOAA: Slow Atlantic hurricane season coming to a close
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, which officially ends on Saturday, Nov. 30, had the fewest number of hurricanes since 1982, thanks in large part to persistent, unfavorable atmospheric conditions over the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and tropical Atlantic Ocean. This year is expected to rank as the sixth-least-active Atlantic hurricane season since 1950, in terms of the collective strength and duration of named storms and hurricanes.
Connecting Grassroots and Government for Disaster Response
Source: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Leaders in disaster response are finding it necessary to adapt to a new reality. Although community actions have always been the core of the recovery process, collective action from the grassroots has changed response operations in ways that few would have predicted. Using new tools that interconnect over expanding mobile networks, citizens can exchange information via maps and social media, then mobilize thousands of people to collect, analyze, and act on that information. Sometimes, community-sourced intelligence may be fresher and more accurate than the information given to the responders who provide aid. This report explores approaches to the questions that commonly emerge when building an interface between the grassroots and government agencies, with a particular focus on the accompanying legal, policy, and technology challenges.
Measurements of methane emissions at natural gas production sites in the United States
Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
This work reports direct measurements of methane emissions at 190 onshore natural gas sites in the United States. The measurements indicate that well completion emissions are lower than previously estimated; the data also show emissions from pneumatic controllers and equipment leaks are higher than Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) national emission projections. Estimates of total emissions are similar to the most recent EPA national inventory of methane emissions from natural gas production. These measurements will help inform policymakers, researchers, and industry, providing information about some of the sources of methane emissions from the production of natural gas, and will better inform and advance national and international scientific and policy discussions with respect to natural gas development and use.
Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854–2010
his paper presents a quantitative analysis of the historic fossil fuel and cement production records of the 50 leading investor-owned, 31 state-owned, and 9 nation-state producers of oil, natural gas, coal, and cement from as early as 1854 to 2010. This analysis traces emissions totaling 914 GtCO2e—63 % of cumulative worldwide emissions of industrial CO2 and methane between 1751 and 2010—to the 90 “carbon major” entities based on the carbon content of marketed hydrocarbon fuels (subtracting for non-energy uses), process CO2 from cement manufacture, CO2 from flaring, venting, and own fuel use, and fugitive or vented methane. Cumulatively, emissions of 315 GtCO2e have been traced to investor-owned entities, 288 GtCO2e to state-owned enterprises, and 312 GtCO2e to nation-states. Of these emissions, half has been emitted since 1986. The carbon major entities possess fossil fuel reserves that will, if produced and emitted, intensify anthropogenic climate change. The purpose of the analysis is to understand the historic emissions as a factual matter, and to invite consideration of their possible relevance to public policy.
New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office
1. Small Business Contracting: Updated Guidance and Reporting Needed for Consolidated Contracts. GAO-14-36, November 26.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/659255.pdf
2. Hurricane Sandy Relief: Improved Guidance on Designing Internal Control Plans Could Enhance Oversight of Disaster Funding. GAO-14-58, November 26.
Highlights - http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/659238.pdf
3. National Preparedness: Actions Taken by FEMA to Implement Select Provisions of the Post-Katrina Emergency Management Reform Act of 2006. GAO-14-99R, November 26.
STEM Attrition: College Students’ Paths Into and Out of STEM Fields
Source: National Center for Health Statistics
This Statistical Analysis Report presents the most recent national statistics on beginning bachelor’s and associate’s degree students’ entrance into, and attrition from, STEM fields. Using recent transcript data, it provides a first look at STEM coursetaking and examines how participation and performance in undergraduate STEM coursework, along with other factors, are associated with STEM attrition. The study is based on data from the 2004/09 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:04/09) and the associated 2009 Postsecondary Education Transcript Study (PETS:09).
U.S.-Mexico Water Sharing: Background and Recent Developments (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via Federation of American Scientists)
The United States and Mexico share the Colorado River and Rio Grande pursuant to binational agreements. Compliance with these agreements becomes more complicated and controversial as water demands near or exceed available supplies and when drought and high heat further reduce availability and increase demand.
A Regulator’s Guidebook: Calculating the Benefits and Costs of Distributed Solar Generation (PDF)
Source: Interstate Renewable Energy Council
There is an acute need for a standardized approach to determining the benefits and costs associated with distributed solar generation (DSG). This report offers lessons learned from 16 regional and utility-specific DSG studies summarized in a recent review by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), and then proposes a standardized valuation methodology for public utility commissions to consider implementing in future studies.
Amphibians with missing, misshapen, and extra limbs have garnered public and scientific attention for two decades, yet the extent of the phenomenon remains poorly understood. Despite progress in identifying the causes of abnormalities in some regions, a lack of knowledge about their broader spatial distribution and temporal dynamics has hindered efforts to understand their implications for amphibian population declines and environmental quality. To address this data gap, we conducted a nationwide, 10-year assessment of 62,947 amphibians on U.S. National Wildlife Refuges. Analysis of a core dataset of 48,081 individuals revealed that consistent with expected background frequencies, an average of 2% were abnormal, but abnormalities exhibited marked spatial variation with a maximum prevalence of 40%. Variance partitioning analysis demonstrated that factors associated with space (rather than species or year sampled) captured 97% of the variation in abnormalities, and the amount of partitioned variance decreased with increasing spatial scale (from site to refuge to region). Consistent with this, abnormalities occurred in local to regional hotspots, clustering at scales of tens to hundreds of kilometers. We detected such hotspot clusters of high-abnormality sites in the Mississippi River Valley, California, and Alaska. Abnormality frequency was more variable within than outside of hotspot clusters. This is consistent with dynamic phenomena such as disturbance or natural enemies (pathogens or predators), whereas similarity of abnormality frequencies at scales of tens to hundreds of kilometers suggests involvement of factors that are spatially consistent at a regional scale. Our characterization of the spatial and temporal variation inherent in continent-wide amphibian abnormalities demonstrates the disproportionate contribution of local factors in predicting hotspots, and the episodic nature of their occurrence.