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Parched California Pours Mega-Millions Into Desalination

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.

Global Warming Pause? The Answer Is Blowin’ Into the Ocean

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.”

No water, no beer: brewers race to save the ales

Publication: NBC News   Date: September 3, 2013   View Article

As water becomes increasingly scarce on our ever more crowded and warming planet, brewers of beer are racing to secure a steady supply of their most prized ingredient by using less of it.

“Without water, there is no beer,” Kim Marotta, the sustainability director for MillerCoors, the Chicago-based joint venture of international brewing giants SABMiller and Molson Coors, told NBC News.

Like many in the brewing industry, MillerCoors understands that access to water of the quantity and quality it needs to grow barley and hops and brew beer is no longer a guarantee as population growth, water pollution and climate change threaten water resources.

Fracking and energy exploration connected to earthquakes, say studies

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 11, 2013   View Article

The rivers of water pumped into and out of the ground during the production of natural gas, oil and geothermal energy are causing the Earth to shake more frequently in areas where these industrial activities are soaring, according to a series of studies published today.

While the gas extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”) causes some small quakes, it’s the disposal of wastewater following that process — and many others relating to energy production — that lead to the largest tremors.

“Fortunately, there have been no deaths and damage has been limited to date, but it is obviously of concern to people as we think about the future of the energy economy,” William Ellsworth, a seismologist with the United States Geological Survey in Menlo Park, Calif., told NBC News.

How do oysters spell climate change relief? A-N-T-A-C-I-D

Publication: NBC News   Date: June 12, 2013   View Article

Oyster hatcheries are dropping the equivalent of Tums and other antacids into water to make it easier for naked mollusk larvae to build their shells. The remedy is working, for now, to keep hatcheries in business and oyster bars well stocked with the slimy delicacies, a hatchery scientist said.

Heartburn for the shellfish industry comes from ocean waters turning ever more corrosive as they absorb a fraction of the carbon dioxide humans are pumping into the atmosphere. The acidification, in turn, makes it harder for oyster larvae to build their shells.

The hatcheries’ antacid, sodium carbonate, makes the water less acidic and “raises the amount of carbonate in the water, which is what the shellfish are using,” Benoit Eudeline, the chief hatchery scientist at Taylor Shellfish Company in Quilcene, Wash., told NBC News.

Cicada Recipes: Bugs Are Low-Carb, Gluten-Free Food

Publication: National Geographic   Date: May 15, 2013   View Article

Anyone hoping to spice up their gluten-free diet need look only at the billions of beady-eyed, shrimp-size cicadas currently emerging from the ground in the eastern United States.

“They definitely would be gluten free … they do not feed on wheat,” said Gene Kritsky, a biologist and cicada expert at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, Ohio. The bugs are also high in protein, low in fat, and low in carbohydrates, he added.

Members of Brood II, one of the largest groups of periodical cicadas, have been crawling out of the ground and carpeting trees from North Carolina to Connecticut since early May. By July, they will be gone—not to be heard from again for 17 years.

‘Living’ building signals new era of sleek sustainability

Publication: NBC News   Date: April 22, 2013   View Article

In cloudy, drizzly Seattle, Denis Hayes, the environmental activist who organized the first Earth Day in 1970, is pulling the wraps off a six-story office building that generates all of its electricity via an oversized rooftop array of solar panels.

A sun-powered building in Seattle is “formidable,” Hayes told NBC News, but the Bullitt Center project aims to show it is possible in a visible, tangible manner that, in turn, makes an impact on the often invisible, slow-motion challenge of global climate change.

“When this whole [Earth Day] thing got launched in 1970, we had people walking around with gas masks and smokestacks were pouring out enormous impenetrable clouds of black smoke,” said Hayes, who is now president of the Bullitt Foundation, which supports environmental causes.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach