Food

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.

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.

Toxic Algae Blooms to Persist on Lake Erie, Experts Say

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 4, 2014   View Article

Toledo’s drinking water is once again safe, Mayor Michael Collins announced as he took a sip from a glass at a Monday morning news conference — but scientists say the harmful algal blooms at the heart of the water crisis are likely to persist well into the future given a confluence of shifting agricultural practices, invasive mussels, and global climate change.

“Here’s to you, Toledo,” Collins said at the conference, smiling for cameras before taking a sip of water drawn, presumably, from a nearby tap.

As Californians Pump Groundwater, Land Sinks and Aquifers Shrink

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 15, 2014   View Article

So much water is being pumped from the ground in parched California that the land is sinking, according to scientists.

The more Californians rely on groundwater, the worse these problems will get, experts across industry, government, and academia say. But, they said, the pumping is likely to continue given a confluence of factors that range from urban population growth to an expanding agricultural industry.

Neonicotinoid Pesticide Linked to Decline of Birds (and Bees)

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 9, 2014   View Article

A controversial agricultural insecticide that has been implicated in the collapse of bee colonies around the world also appears to be causing bird populations to drop, according to a new study. The insecticides known as neonicotinoids are designed to attack the central nervous system of insects that devour crops, but only about 5 percent of the chemical compound stays on the plant. The rest leaches into the soil and water, where it does its magic on other bugs, the researchers said.

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.

3,700-year-old cellar housed ‘luxurious’ wine

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

A 3,700-year-old palatial cellar packed with jars once filled with a wine-like brew has been discovered at an archaeological site in northern Israel, a team of researchers announced Friday.

The cellar is perhaps the oldest of its type ever discovered and the wine was anything but ordinary. Spiked with juniper berries, cedar oil, honey and tree resins, it was likely the good stuff pulled from the cellar for grand, royal banquets where resident rulers and perhaps their trading partners washed down a feast of wild cattle with an intoxicating swill.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach