Welcome to By John Roach, a collection of my writing published on the Web. Surf around the categories to read article excerpts. Follow the links to view the full stories... then come back to read more, check out my bio, or send me a note.
Publication: NBC News Date: June 22, 2014 View Article
Asia’s love of nuts is draining California dry.
Amid one of the worst droughts in the state’s history, farmers are scrambling to find enough water to irrigate lucrative almond trees they planted after abandoning other, less thirsty crops.
Why’s there such a market for California nuts? As incomes in countries such as China, South Korea, and India have risen, so has demand for nuts that formerly were out of reach for many Asians. Added to the mix are Wall Street firms who, smelling a quick buck, are paying top dollar for vegetable farms and converting them to orchards.
Publication: NBC News Date: May 25, 2014 View Article
Ships packed with frozen mackerel and herring will sail in convoy behind a Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker from Norway to Asia this summer along the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic Ocean — a trial run as companies rush to capitalize on the world’s hunger for fish and to extract minerals from the top of the world.
Dozens of ships now transit the Arctic each year amid decreasing summer ice — in 2013,71 vessels plied the Northern Sea Route, including the first container ship. In another first, a bulk carrier transited coal through the famed Northwest Passage on a voyage from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to Finland. And that traffic is only likelier to get busier.
Hundreds more ships “go up to the Arctic and perform some activity and then they come out,” Lawson Brigham, a professor of geography and Arctic policy at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, explained to NBC News. Most of these ships transport equipment to mines and other industrial sites and leave with commodities such as oil, gas, copper, nickel, and iron ore.
Publication: National Geographic News Date: May 9, 2014 View Article
Trains loaded with crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation rumble past the outfield bleachers of the Seattle Mariners’ baseball stadium several times a week. From there, the trains head north, their cargo destined for multiple refineries in Washington State.
The traffic is new: Just three years ago, no oil trains were coming to Washington. Bakken crude is filling a void created by dwindling shipments from aging oil fields on Alaska’s North Slope, and the petroleum industry wants to bring in more. But the push to build more rail and shipping capacity in the Pacific Northwest is spurring debate over how that oil flow will affect the region—and where it should ultimately go.
Publication: NBC News Date: April 12, 2014 View Article
The most destructive wildfire in Colorado history swept through the Black Forest community outside of Colorado Springs and destroyed nearly 500 homes last June, and scores of those residents are starting to come back. But so could the fire.
Less than a year after the wildfire, 171 permits for new homes have been issued and the rebuilding process is well underway. There’s always a possibility that another massive fire may sweep through the area, but that’s just part of life in the woods, according to residents.
Among the first homes to burn belonged to Ray and Cindy Miller, who have lived on five acres in the quiet, forested community for 32 years. “When we came back to the property, it was devastating because all of the trees were pretty much gone,” said Cindy Miller, who had fled her home with just two blouses, makeup, and a camera as wind-whipped flames and black smoke engulfed the home. “But I just closed my eyes and listened to the sounds. That was home. I knew that I had to rebuild there.”
Publication: NBC News Date: March 24, 2014 View Article
A quarter-century after 10.8 million gallons of crude oil gushed from the Exxon Valdez and scarred Alaska’s Prince William Sound, oil spill responders fear that another disaster looms in more remote Alaskan waters where ship traffic is on the rise, due in part to the North American energy boom.
The largest concern centers on the Arctic, where oil exploration and development is progressing in fits and starts, and Unimak Pass in the Aleutian Islands, a choke point on a major shipping route between North America and Asia. Both regions are expected to see increased traffic as summer sea ice disappears and producers of North American crude oil and coal look to export fossil fuels to Asia.
Publication: NBC News Date: February 17, 2014 View Article
Besieged by drought and desperate for new sources of water, California towns are ramping up plans to convert salty ocean water into drinking water to quench their long-term thirst. The plants that carry out the high-tech “desalination” process can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but there may be few other choices for the parched state.
Where the Pacific Ocean spills into the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, Calif., construction is 25 percent complete on a $1 billion project to wring 50 million gallons of freshwater a day from the sea and pour it into a water system that serves 3.1 million people.
Desalination was a dreamy fiction during the California Water Wars of the early 20th century that inspired the classic 1974 movie “Chinatown.” In the 1980s, however, the process of forcing seawater through reverse osmosis membranes to filter out salt and other impurities became a reliable, even essential, tool in regions of the world desperate for water.
Publication: NBC News Date: February 9, 2014 View Article
For the past 13 years, global surface air temperatures have hardly budged higher despite continual pumping of planet-warming gasses into the atmosphere from the engines of modern life. Does this prove global warming is a giant hoax? No, according to a new study, which says the missing heat is being blown into the western Pacific Ocean by extraordinarily powerful and accelerating trade winds.
“Their acceleration over the last couple of decades is way stronger than you’ve ever seen in a climate model, about twice as strong,” Matthew England, a climate scientist at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, told NBC News. “This is an unprecedented level of strengthening and it is strong enough that it is actually pushing heat in the Pacific Ocean into the ocean’s interior,” he added.
As the heat is drawn down into the ocean’s interior, cooler water rises to the surface and cools air temperatures. When — it’s not a matter of if, noted England — the winds slacken, the heat stored in the Pacific Ocean will return to the atmosphere, allowing the surface air temperatures to spike higher and “catch up to the original projections of global warming in under a decade.”