Solar on the best UK sites is competitive with cheap coal

Last week a massive 350-hectare open cast coal mine at Druridge Bay won planning permission. This got Chris Goodall wondering: what if the land was turned into a solar farm instead? His surprise discovery: solar power on England's south coast already costs no more than coal - and it's only getting cheaper.A week ago Northumberland council gave planning permission to a new open-cast coal mine at Druridge on the coastline just north of Newcastle.About 3 million tonnes of coal will be extracted over a five to seven-year period from an area of around 350 hectares, including storage space. (350 hectares is about 1.4 square miles)The environmental objections to the plan are striking. For example, the owners predict about 170 HGV movements a day along local roads during the whole lifetime of the project. The landscape impact is also severe although the developers say they will ensure that the local sandy beaches are unaffected.

What Do You Know About New York Whales?

In case you thought wildlife in New York was pretty much limited to the squirrels and pigeons of Central Park, Howard Rosenbaum has news for you.“In less distance out to sea than the average New Yorker’s commute home, there is likely a whale singing at this very moment,” says Rosenbaum, director of the Ocean Giants program at the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, Brooklyn.7 Species Of Whales Spotted In New York WatersHumpback whales (seen above) are regularly seen in the waters off the Big Apple, while fin whales inhabit the waters around the eastern tip of Long Island. Five other species, the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and minke and sperm whales, as well as sei whales and the blue whale, the largest animal that has ever lived (seen below) have also been seen or heard in New York waters. 

Why Are There Frogs With Extra Limbs and Missing Eyes in Australia?

There’s something strange happening in Queensland, Australia: the frog populations are dropping like flies and frog deformities are on the rise. One frog doctor (yes, that’s a legitimate thing) blames insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. The problem is that no one from the academic community or government is taking these issues seriously.Deborah Pergolotti runs the Cairns Frog Safe project — Australia’s only hospital that serves frog patients — and she’s witnessing disturbing trends. Pergolotti told the Guardian there has been a 95% decline in the Cairns frog population over the last 17 years. Coincidentally, neonicotinoids were first introduced in Australia in 1996 — just three years prior to the decline that Pergolotti cites.At this point, Pergolotti can only speculate because no one has been looking into the toxicology. “If somebody would get around to doing the toxicology for it, then maybe we might get some proof, but nobody’s interested in the toxicology,” she tells the Guardian.

Ocean warming primary cause of Antarctic Peninsula glacier retreat

A new study has found for the first time that ocean warming is the primary cause of retreat of glaciers on the western Antarctic Peninsula. The Peninsula is one of the largest current contributors to sea-level rise and this new finding will enable researchers to make better predictions of ice loss from this region.The research, by scientists at Swansea University and British Antarctic Survey, is published in the journal Science today (Friday, July 15). The study reports that glaciers flowing to the coast on the western side of the Peninsula show a distinct spatial correlation with ocean temperature patterns, with those in the south retreating rapidly but those in the north showing little change. Some 90% of the 674 glaciers in this region have retreated since records began in the 1940s.

Black bear links real objects to computer images

American black bears may be able to recognize things they know in real life, such as pieces of food or humans, when looking at a photograph of the same thing. This is one of the findings of a study led by Zoe Johnson-Ulrich and Jennifer Vonk of Oakland University in the US, which involved a black bear called Migwan and a computer screen. The findings are published in Springer's journal Animal Cognition.The study forms part of a broader research project into the welfare of bears in captivity. It aims to find out how the animals themselves rate the environment in which they are held, and the facilities, food and features provided to them. The goal is to assess this by presenting bears with photographs of objects. To do so, the research team first had to assess whether bears are in fact able to recognize 2-D images of objects and people familiar to them when these are presented to them on a touch screen.

India: The Burning City

Underground fires have been burning for more than a century beneath India's largest coalfield, but in recent decades open-cast mining has brought the flames to the surface with devastating consequences for the local population.As communities are destroyed and thousands suffer from toxic fumes, what lies behind this human and environmental disaster?  Filmmakers Gautam Singh and Dom Rotheroe went to find out.The devastating impact of coal mining After the US and China, India is currently the world's third-largest energy consumer; a position that is set to consolidate in coming years as economic development, urbanisation, improved electricity access, and an expanding manufacturing base all add to demand.   Right now much of those energy needs - up to two thirds of all electricity generated - are being met by domestically produced coal, of which India has abundant reserves. 

Rising sea levels will change the ecology of the Everglades

The Florida Everglades is a swampy wilderness the size of Delaware. In some places along the road in southern Florida, it looks like tall saw grass to the horizon, a prairie punctuated with a few twisted cypress trees. The sky is the palest blue.But beneath the surface a different story is unfolding. Because of climate change and sea level rise, the ocean is starting to seep into the swampland. If the invasion grows worse, it could drastically change the Everglades, and a way of life for millions of residents in South Florida.

Mobile app for rain forecasts raises farmers' yields

A mobile phone-based innovation that can predict rain is helping farmers in six Sub-Saharan Africa countries sow, fertilise and harvest crops at the optimum time.The innovation is being used in Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal to improve crop yields and optimise food production through information and communication technology (ICT) weather forecasting model that produces Global Positioning System (GPS)-specific forecasts.

A Growing Crisis: Insects are Disappearing — And Fast

We all know about the huge declines in bee and monarch butterfly populations. Now, it turns out that in some areas nearly all insects are at risk of extinction. And if we don’t solve this problem soon, the repercussions could be huge.Insects are an important part of the global ecosystem. They not only provide important pollination services, but they also occupy an important place on the bottom of the food chain for many animals. Fewer insects means less food, leading to plant and animal population declines.“The growing threat to [insects], which play an important role in food security, provides another compelling example of how connected people are to our environment, and how deeply entwined our fate is with that of the natural world,” said Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, in a press statement.

Genetically improving sorghum for production of biofuel

The bioenergy crop sorghum holds great promise as a raw material for making environmentally friendly fuels and chemicals that offer alternatives to petroleum-based products. Sorghum can potentially yield more energy per area of land than other crops while requiring much less input in terms of fertilizer or chemicals. New research examines how genetic improvement of specific sorghum traits, with an eye toward sustainability, could help maximize the usefulness of sorghum as a bioenergy crop.The work was conducted by researchers from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Washington State University in Pullman, the USDA-ARS in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the University of Missouri, Columbia. They highlight disease resistance, flooding tolerance and cell wall composition as key targets for genetically improving sorghum for sustainable production of renewable fuels and chemicals.