Writings

‘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.

Parched California Braces for Drought Without End in Sight

Publication: NBC News   Date: February 24, 2014   View Article

As California and other western states face what some scientists fear could be a prolonged drought amplified by global warming, water experts say there’s simply no way to predict how long the dry spell will last.

The best thing to do, they said, is to prepare for the worst and hope for rain. It wouldn’t be the first time California soil went parched for a long stretch. Tree growth rings in the region show evidence of prolonged periods of aridity in the past.

“To know that we are going into another pattern like that, that we could expect this drought to persist for 10 to 15 years is really, really, really hard to say,” Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb., told NBC News. “There is really nothing in our forecasting models that are being looked at that would suggest that we would even have the ability to do that.”

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.”

Google Earth spies unreported fish traps, study reveals

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 26, 2013   View Article

Fishing traps known as weirs that jut from coastlines may be snaring six times more fish in the Persian Gulf than what is officially reported, according to a new estimate based, in part, on satellite imagery available through Google Earth.

Scientists turned to the Internet search giant’s mapping tool as a way to cross-check catch data reported to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization by six countries in the gulf, a region of the world where marine ecosystems are understudied.

Methane emissions soar past previous estimates, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 25, 2013   View Article

Emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane from industrial activities in the United States are vastly higher than previous estimates, according to a new study.

“We think our result for the oil and gas sector could be up to five times higher” than figures reported in a widely used international emissions database, Scot Miller, the study’s lead author and a graduate student at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., told NBC News.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach