Category Archives: Stories

Zeroing in on Life Around a Hydrothermal Vent


(First published on April 13, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

Vicki Ferrini has spent a lot of time working on mapping the ocean floor, and now she’s sailing in the South Pacific to get a closer look.

Ferrini, who works in the Marine Geology and Geophysics Division of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, is sailing aboard the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s R/V Falkor. Scientists aboard the research vessel are exploring the life around hydrothermal vent systems 2,400 meters beneath the surface of the South Pacific Ocean. And, they’re blogging about it.

Ferrini posted the latest dispatch at the American Geophysical Union website. The ship is hovering over the Lau Back-arc Basin, between Tonga and Fiji and next to the Tonga Trench, where the Pacific plate drives under the Australian Plate.

The video above takes you there via some sophisticated mapping to one of the thermal vents that they are studying.

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Students Help an Urban Farm Rethink Its Future


(First published on State of the Planet on Jan. 25, 2016.)

In the Fair Haven section of New Haven, Conn., rates of obesity and diabetes are high, and access to healthy fresh food can be limited. For some residents of this low-income neighborhood, New Haven Farms is just what the doctor ordered.

The small non-profit agency grows vegetables on several plots around the city, and conducts classes in basic nutrition and healthy cooking. New Haven Farms grew out of a program run by the Fair Haven Community Health Center, which serves the largely low-income, Hispanic neighborhood. Doctors actually prescribe the program as one way to help patients at risk from diet-related diseases like Diabetes 2 learn a healthier lifestyle.

Last fall, a team of students in the Earth Institute’s Master of Science in Sustainability Management program traveled to Connecticut to study the New Haven Farms operation and come up with ways to expand its growing capacity and the number of people it serves. This “Capstone Workshop” was one of several conducted by teams of students in the MSSM program and serves in place of a thesis, giving students a hands-on experience consulting for a real-world client. This video tells the story of what the New Haven Farms team did.

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Optimism, But Also a Hard Bottom Line for Island States

Students from the University of Waterloo in Canada had a breakfast meeting with the Kiribati delegation and met the island nation’s president, Anote Tong, on Dec. 6. From left: Kadra Rayale, Rija Rasul, Tong, Vidya Nair and Laura Maxwell.

(First published on Dec. 10, 2015, on State of the Planet.)

Four students in the Masters in Development Practice program at the University of Waterloo in Canada are in Paris for the UN climate summit to represent the Republic of Kiribati. The small island nation is one of several threatened by sea level rise.

This week they have been sitting in on various thematic discussions. Rija Rasul reports she has attended climate finance discussions. Her colleagues Laura Maxwell and Kadra Rayale have been in sessions on adaptation to, and loss and damage from climate change. Vidya Nair has been in discussions about technology and capacity building.

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Cities Face up to the Climate Challenge

Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo: Somayya Ali Ibrahim

(First published on State of the Planet on Dec. 4, 2015.)

Millions of people living in cities around the world already feel the impacts of climate change: heat waves, flooded streets, landslides and storms. All of these affect important infrastructure such as transportation and water supplies, ports and commerce, public health and people’s daily lives. And it is cities that are at the forefront of the response.

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In 2015, Hot, Wet and Opinionated

Map: NOAA

(First published Oct. 23, 2015, on State of the Planet.)

Three interesting pieces of news about climate change, in case you missed them:

For starters, 2015 is shaping up to be the warmest year on record since 1880, according to new data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Potential sea level rise in Guilford, CT. Source: Climate Central

Second, if you’re wondering about the longer-term impacts of climate change: Climate Central has produced a startling new, interactive graphic that shows the potential effects of sea level rise, should the world continue to grow warmer, melting more and more of the world’s ice sheets and glaciers. From a general view of the impacts on the United States, you can drill down into the graphic and see what’s likely to happen in your nearest coastal community. You can adjust the scene to see what might happen under various scenarios, should we actually succeed in cutting back carbon emissions.

Translation? My former hometown’s downtown would be pretty much under water, along with a substantial stretch of the Amtrak line running up through coastal Connecticut, by the end of the century. Posted Oct. 14, you can check it out here—just in case you want to plan ahead.

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Big Melt in Frontierland: Alaska’s Lessons in Global Warming

Seward, Alaska

Sailing out from Seward.

Note: The following story was reported and written in 2007, for The Hartford Courant. Editors there declined to run it. I like the story anyway, and pretty much everything it says has been repeatedly validated by subsequent scientific research. It’s still going on – even in Connecticut. I’ve added a couple of notes in brackets in the text where updates seemed appropriate. — DF

SEWARD, Alaska — The Glacier Express chugged out of Resurrection Bay, and the blowing rain turned to sleet that lashed across the upper deck. White clouds shrouded the dark gray mountains that drop steeply into the sea.

This had been one of Alaska’s coldest and wettest summers. As they headed toward Kenai Fjords National Park, passengers aboard the sightseeing boat, some wrapped in fleece and rain gear in mid-August, had good reason to wonder what had happened to global warming.

But Alaska, frontierland of huge landscapes and volatile weather, is indeed warming. In the past 50 years, the state’s annual average temperature is up as much as 5.5 degrees. Overall, the Arctic region has warmed almost twice as fast as the rest of the world.

The greenhouse gas problem fueled by our crowded and busy civilization affects this remote region now, directly and in many ways — including fading sea ice, melting glaciers, thawing permafrost and changes in habitats that have been the same for thousands of years.

But this is not Alaska’s problem alone. The effects of warming in Alaska and the rest of the Arctic will reverberate all over the globe.

Even in Connecticut.

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What the World Thinks of Climate Change

First posted on the Earth Institute’s State of the Planet blog on July 27, 2015.

We know that climate change can generate great debate in the United States. But what about the rest of the world?

Using data collected by the Gallup World Poll in 2007 and 2008, researchers at Columbia and Yale took an unprecedented look at public opinion in 119 countries, representing 90 percent of the world’s population, to investigate what factors most influence peoples’ awareness of climate change and their perception of its risks. The research was published July 27 in Nature Climate Change.

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