Farm states suffer expanded drought

A dire drought that has plagued Texas and parts of Oklahoma expanded across the key farming state of Kansas over the last week, adding to struggles of wheat farmers already dealing with weather-ravaged fields. Harvest in Kansas, the top U.S. wheat-growing state, is set to begin within weeks. But a report issued Thursday by a consortium of climatologists said the three most severe levels of drought spread across the state over the last week, with the most dire conditions concentrated in the key wheat-growing south-central and southwest parts. "It is pretty bad," said Kansas state climatologist Mary Knapp. "For a lot of these areas... the last significant rainfall was in July of last year." Kansas now has 50 percent of the state suffering severe levels of drought or worse, up from 41 percent last week, according to the Drought Monitor report. Just three months ago, less than 4 percent of Kansas was suffering severe drought or worse. The drought is eroding production potential at a time when every bushel counts.

Better Place EVs Priced at $35,623 USD for Summer Delivery

Ever since Israeli entrepreneur Shai Agassi opened his Better Place test drive center near Tel Aviv, back in February 2010, more and more Israelis have had the chance to not only find out about Agassi's unique electric car battery swap concept, but also a chance to drive one, as I did in April last year. I was very impressed by the quietness of the ride, as well as how much pick up the engine had; describing the acceleration to be "like being in a rocket". This week Better Place announced pricing for its first models.

High Atmospheric CO2 Levels May Cause Mass Extinctions in the Oceans

One of the greatest causes of global climate change is the human emissions of greenhouse gases, specifically carbon dioxide (CO2). These emissions are released into the atmosphere, but much of it gets absorbed into the world's oceans. A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at prehistoric ocean sediment and found a disturbing trend. Periods of high CO2 concentrations have historically coincided with mass extinctions of marine organisms.

The Salty Seas of Earth

Final preparations are under way for the June 9 launch of the international Aquarius/SAC-D observatory. The mission's primary instrument, Aquarius, will study interactions between ocean circulation, the water cycle and climate by measuring ocean surface salinity. On average, seawater in the world's oceans has a salinity of about 3.5% (35 g/L). In addition to Aquarius, the observatory carries seven other instruments that will collect environmental data for a wide range of applications, including studies of natural hazards, air quality, land processes and epidemiology. Although the vast majority of seawater has a salinity of between 3.1% and 3.8%, seawater is not uniformly saline throughout the world. Where mixing occurs with fresh water runoff from river mouths or near melting glaciers, seawater can be substantially less saline. The most saline open sea is the Red Sea, where high rates of evaporation, low precipitation and river inflow, and confined circulation result in unusually salty water. The salinity in isolated bodies of water (for example, the Dead Sea) can be considerably greater still.

Study Finds Breastfeeding Leads to Good Behavior in Childhood

Breastfeeding, the act of feeding an infant directly from the human breast, is known to be good for children. There are formulas available which can simulate a mother's milk, but can never perfectly replicate the natural act of breastfeeding. In the past, studies have shown inconsistent results as to whether or not breastfeeding really improves childhood wellbeing in areas such as IQ, behavior, and obesity. However, a new study from the University of Oxford has put a firmer grip on this already well-known theory.

Toys ‘R’ Us To Build Largest Rooftop Solar System in North America

Toys"R"Us, Inc. announced plans to build the largest rooftop solar power installation in North America at its distribution center in Flanders, NJ this week, with construction of the 5.38-megawatts (MW) installation expected to begin this summer. The system will cover roughly 20 acres of rooftop space and is estimated to generate 72% of the electrical needs for the distribution facility. It will consist of more than 37,000 thin-film photovoltaic solar panels manufactured by United Solar, a subsidiary of Energy Conversion Devices.

Green as a Status Symbol: Why Increased Prices May Increase Sales

A commonly heard, and personally experienced, critique of the sustainability movement is the relatively high cost of green products compared to traditional products. I can spend .99 cents on a bottle of shampoo that cleans my hair but has 25 ingredients listed on the back, most of which I have trouble pronouncing let alone knowing what they actually are or what effects they will have on my health. Or, I can purchase a bottle of green shampoo made from significantly fewer and easier to identify ingredients, but it will cost me ten times as much. The significantly higher price of green products inhibits my, and other consumers, ability to purchase them, but more importantly it creates a divide between consumers that are able to purchase green goods and those that are not.

Chicago rivers must be cleaned up, says US EPA

Chicago waterways long used to carry away the city's waste must be cleaned up expeditiously so residents can play in them, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told state officials on Thursday. "A decade of investments in walkways, boat ramps and parks has provided people with access to the water -- and now we need to make sure that the water is safe," Susan Hedman, the agency's Midwest regional administrator, said in a statement. Boaters commonly ply the city's rivers and canals, and residences have replaced some industries along the waterways in recent years. But users are warned against extensive contact with the water. The agency informed the Illinois Pollution Control Board that if it does not promptly adopt higher standards for waters in the North and South Branches of the Chicago River, the North Shore Channel, the Cal-Sag Channel and the Little Calumet River, the agency will use its power under the U.S. Clean Water Act to do so.

Barred Owls

The Barred Owl is a large typical owl. It goes by many other names, including eight hooter, rain owl, wood owl, and striped owl, but is probably known best as the hoot owl. Barred owls may be more abundant in coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest than previously recognized, according to research published today in the Journal of Wildlife Management. This finding likely has implications for the recovery of the federally threatened northern spotted owl. Related studies about the competitive interactions between barred owls and spotted owls are under way, with results anticipated this summer.The research published today also emphasizes the need for species-specific survey methods to document and understand the interactions between the northern spotted owl and its close relative, the barred owl. Barred owls, which have gradually expanded their range into the Pacific Northwest over the past 30 years, are now thought to be competing with dwindling numbers of spotted owls for critical resources such as food and nesting habitat.

Japan’s U-Turn on Nuclear Power: Reaction

Yesterday, Japan's prime minister, Naoto Kan, announced that the government was scrapping a planned expansion of nuclear power, which currently provides about a third of Japanese electricity. Instead, the government would redouble efforts to expand its renewable energy portfolio, Kan said. The turnaround followed Kan's urging last week that a reactor in Hamaoka, near an active seismic zone, be shut down; the company that runs the plant has agreed and is building a seawall to protect the plant from tsunamis when it reopens in 2 years.