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

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.

That’s Nuts: Almond Boom Strains California Water Supply

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.

Pacific Northwest’s Salish Sea Eyed as Fossil Fuel Gateway

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.

‘That Was Home': Residents Rebuild in Wildfire-Prone Areas

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.”

The Next Exxon Valdez? Remote Alaskan Waters, Experts Fear

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.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach