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.

Featured Articles

For Storing Electricity, Utilities Are Turning to Pumped Hydro

Publication: Yale Environment 360   Date: November 24, 2015   View Article

In the past decade, wind energy production has soared in Spain, rising from 6 percent of the country’s electricity generation in 2004 to about 20 percent today. While that is certainly good news for boosters of clean energy, the surge in renewables has come with the challenge of ensuring that electric power is available when customers want it, not just when the wind blows.

To help accommodate the increased supply of wind, Spain’s utilities have turned not to high-tech, 21st-century batteries, but rather to a time-tested 19th-century technology — pumped storage hydroelectricity. Pumped storage facilities are typically equipped with pumps and generators that move water between upper and lower reservoirs. A basic setup uses excess electricity — generated, say, from wind turbines during a blustery night — to pump water from a lower reservoir, such as behind a dam, to a reservoir at a higher elevation. Then, when the wind ceases to blow or electricity demand spikes, the water from on high is released to spin hydroelectric turbines.

Will Huge Batteries Save Us From Power Blackouts?

Publication: National Geographic   Date: April 29, 2015   View Article

Glacier, Washington, is the final stop for coffee and treats on the Mt. Baker Highway, which ends at a ski area holding the world record for most snowfall in a season. The small town in the woods might seem an unlikely spot for a $9.6 million warehouse to store excess energy, but it might prove the perfect testing ground.

The area’s winter storms routinely knock out power to Glacier, home to about 250 residents year-round and more than 1,000 on busy weekends. Come 2016, its outages should be less frequent thanks to a shipping container humming with lithium-ion batteries hooked up to a substation that will provide up to 18 hours of backup electricity.

The two-megawatt system will allow Puget Sound Energy to study broader applications for grid-scale energy storage such as using it to provide power during peak-hour demand and to maintain minute-by-minute grid balance.

Top Spy Agencies Help Break Wildlife Trafficking Rings

Publication: NBC News   Date: April 21, 2015   View Article

Call them the spies who love elephants (or rhinos or tigers).

The top spy agencies in the U.S. are sharing intelligence and personnel to bust international wildlife trafficking rings, which rake in more than $20 billion a year in the trade of everything from elephant ivory and rhino horn to the bladders of a Mexican fish.

Without intelligence of the sort used to fight drug and sex traffickers, according to experts, some of the planet’s most iconic creatures face extinction.

“We didn’t have the same resources to fight this trade that other agencies had,” Edward Grace, the deputy chief of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said. “That is a gap we are filling in now.”

Many in U.S. Face Another Dry Year as World Water Day Arrives

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 22, 2015   View Article

It’s a thirsty nation.

From California to the Pacific Northwest to swaths of Texas and Oklahoma, farmers, ranchers and just about anybody with a lawn or a pool are bracing for what’s expected to be another dry year.

Historically low snowpack in the mountains along the West Coast has heightened concern about drought. Ski areas from California to Washington have cried uncle after months of trying to keep slopes open. And water resource managers are busy making plans to deal with low river flows. For many in the U.S., World Water Day on March 22 is that in name only.

Hungry Planet: Can Big Data Help Feed 9 Billion Humans?

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 17, 2014   View Article

With a population set to hit 9 billion human beings by 2050, the world needs to grow more food —without cutting down forests and jungles, which are the climate’s huge lungs.

The solution, according to one soil management scientist, is Big Data.

Kenneth Cassman, an agronomist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, recently unveiled a new interactive mapping tool that shows in fine-grain detail where higher crop yields are possible on current arable land.

“By some estimates, 20 to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are associated with agriculture and of that a large portion is due to conversion of natural systems like rainforests or grassland savannahs to crop production, agriculture,” Cassman told NBC News at a conference in suburban Seattle.

Who’s Driving That Tanker? New Polar Code For Sailing Emerges

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 23, 2014   View Article

A quarter-century after a drunk captain and his fatigued crew ran the Exxon Valdez onto a reef where it spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound, new rules are taking shape to prevent a similar disaster in the rapidly opening Arctic Ocean.

There, melting sea ice is opening a new frontier for cruise and cargo ships as well as prospectors for oil, gas, and hard rock minerals.

A key goal of the new rules is to ensure people skilled in navigating ice-strewn seas are aboard every vessel in Arctic and Antarctic waters, according to Lawson Brigham, a distinguished professor of geography and Arctic policy at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, who has participated in the development of the so-called Polar Code for more than 20 years.

Collapse of Civilizations Seen Through Key Beer Ingredient: Study

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 11, 2014   View Article

Beer, scientists have long argued, helped give rise to civilization in an arc of land that sweeps from modern-day Egypt to the border between Iraq and Iran. Today, chemical analysis of barley grains, one of beer’s key ingredients, is bolstering research into climate change’s role in the collapse of ancient societies.

“There has been a longtime debate about the relationship between climate and its changes and the development and in some cases demise of cultures,” Frank Hole, an emeritus professor of anthropology at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and a study co-author, explained to NBC News. “The research that we did is attempting to pinpoint this more directly.”

To do this, he and colleagues collected samples of modern and ancient barley grains throughout the Near East and analyzed them to tease out the impact on agriculture of so-called mega-droughts over the past 10,000 years. The existence of these droughts has been inferred from sources such as pollen and microscopic animals in cores of soil pulled from lake and ocean bottoms.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach