Testing For Arsenic in Drinking Water Without Sampling Wells?

By Tasha Eichenseher | August 22, 2013 1:09 pm
Map of Arsenic in China

Photo courtesy of Science.

That would be wonderful, as an estimated 140 million people worldwide consume groundwater containing unsafe levels of arsenic. There just simply aren’t enough resources to test the hundreds of thousands of wells, many in developing countries and rural areas, which could be harboring this toxic substance.

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element. Long-term chronic exposure to it — primarily through drinking water — has been linked to skin discoloration, loss of feeling in hands and feet, and cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set the standard for arsenic in drinking water in this country at 10 parts per billion (less than a drop in an Olympic-size swimming pool), but in many regions around the world people are exposed to much higher levels.

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MORE ABOUT: arsenic, China

Fracking Sites More Vulnerable to Tremors From Distant Earthquakes

By Tasha Eichenseher | July 11, 2013 1:33 pm

Move over Poseidon. New research shows that human activity — mainly pumping large volumes of water into the earth near natural gas and oil wells — may make certain places more vulnerable to seismic activity.

In the latest issue of the journal Science, researchers from Columbia University propose that an increase in underground wastewater disposal at natural-gas and oil extraction sites, particularly in the southern and western U.S., has been accompanied by an increase in earthquakes that are triggered by distant seismic events.

Map of wastewater injection-related seismic activity

Earthquakes in red occurred more than a week after major earthquakes in Chile (2010), Japan (2011) and Sumatra (2012). Triggering occurs almost exclusively in three oil and gas-related wastewater injection fields (labeled Prague, Trinidad and Snyder). Image courtesy of Science/AAAS.

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What the Frack is Up with Drinking Water and Shale Gas Extraction?

By Tasha Eichenseher | June 24, 2013 3:08 pm

A study out today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences helps to build the case that the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” does indeed pollute underground water reserves.

Researchers from Duke, the University of Rochester and California State Polytechnic University analyzed 141 drinking water wells in northeastern Pennsylvania and southern New York, near the Marcellus shale-gas deposit, where extraction started ramping up around 2005.  They were looking for concentrations of methane, ethane and propane gas that could be traced back to nearby natural gas wells.

They found that of the drinking water they tested in homes less than a kilometer away from a natural gas well, 82 percent had well-related methane levels that averaged six times higher than levels found in homes farther than a kilometer. (Some methane occurs naturally, so researchers teased out the isotopic signatures of methane from natural-gas sources.)

A Marcellus shale gas extraction well pad and farm in Pennsylvania.

A Marcellus shale gas extraction well pad and farm in Pennsylvania. Image courtesy of Robert B. Jackson.

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Monitoring Water With GRACE

By Tasha Eichenseher | June 13, 2013 1:55 pm
a map of ocean currents

GRACE data was used, among other data, in creating this map of ocean currents from 2005 to 2007. Image courtesy NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

In an article in the journal Science this week, University of California-Irvine professor of engineering James Famiglietti and NASA hydrologist Matthew Rodell make the case for improving the GRACE satellite program, which has been critical to understanding global water supplies.

GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) has given us so much, and while scheduled for a 2017 relaunch, these water wonks argue that there are tweaks that could make it an even better water management tool. More compelling data visualization would have to be logical outcome of improvements too, right?

The GRACE mission is a joint effort between NASA and the German Aerospace Center that maps variations in Earth’s gravity field. Two identical satellite-carrying spacecraft orbit the planet about 140 miles apart. When the two are pulled away from each other, even just slightly, it means they have entered an area of slightly stronger gravity. The change could be imperceptible to the human eye, but a precise microwave ranging system on board can detect it. And those gravitational changes reflect changes in mass on the Earth, including mountains, valleys and ocean trenches. Many of the small-scale mass variations that are detected have to do with water as it moves and evaporates.

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MORE ABOUT: GRACE, groundwater, NASA

World Environment Day: Food Waste

By Tasha Eichenseher | June 5, 2013 8:22 am

World Environment Day is one of those well-intentioned U.N. designations — an annual celebration meant to bring awareness to a global resource problem. This year it is an issue near and dear to my heart: food waste.

World Environment Day: Food Waste poster

A poster for this year’s World Environment Day. Illustration courtesy of the United Nations Environment Programme.

I’ve written about the water footprint, and general arrogance, of food waste a couple of times before, for Water Currents:

365 Trillion Gallons of Water Thrown Away With Our Food Every Year

Waste Food, Waste Water — A Message From World Water Week

But will recap some of the stats floating around:

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The Ripple Effect of Meatless Monday: Can it Extend to China?

By Tasha Eichenseher | June 3, 2013 4:15 pm

The Meatless Monday campaign marks its tenth anniversary this year. What started as a public health push, conceived by a Mad Men-era Madison Avenue ad man, has turned into a banner effort for animal rights groups, public school systems, food companies, restaurateurs and environmental groups that all have an interest in promoting healthier, meat-free meals.

A suggested Meatless Monday poster for a Chinese campaign

A suggested Meatless Monday poster for a Chinese campaign that reads: “It’s good for you, good for us, good for the planet.” Photo courtesy of Meatless Monday.

The campaign’s founder and chairman, Sid Lerner, says Meatless Monday has spread to 23 countries. And the Meatless Monday team has recently focused their attention on making inroads into China, where the population consumes about 71 million tons of meat a year.

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MORE ABOUT: China, Meatless Monday

Chemical Analysis Reveals Possible Birthplace of French Winemaking, Hints of Pine and Basil

By Tasha Eichenseher | June 3, 2013 3:08 pm

Domesticated grapes for winemaking originated nearly 9,000 years ago, somewhere in the Eurasian mountains of what is today Turkey or Iran. And then they took a long, tipsy ride, over the course of hundreds of years and across the Mediterranean before they arrived in France.

wine bottles stacked in a row

Modern-day amphorae. Photograph by Christian Delbert/Shutterstock.

A new study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, unearths the first archaeological, botanical and chemical evidence of winemaking in France.

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MORE ABOUT: archaeology, France, wine

Water Used to be on Mars, and in the Colorado River

By Tasha Eichenseher | May 31, 2013 1:17 pm

Recent Curiosity rover findings may be definitive proof there was once water flowing on Mars. NASA has uncovered rounded pebbles on the planet’s surface. “Rounded pebbles of this size are known to form only when transported through water over long distances,” states a press release from the University of California, Davis, which has professors working on the Mars Curiosity mission.

An artist's rendition of what rivers on Mars may have looked like

An artist’s rendition of what rivers may have looked like on Mars. Photo courtesy NASA/JPL.

Water is life. And so this new evidence bolsters the theory that Mars once hosted lifeforms. (June 10 update: More evidence now suggests that the water on Mars could even have been of drinking water quality for familiar forms of life.)

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A Deluge of Uncertainty About Natural Disasters and Climate Change

By Tasha Eichenseher | May 28, 2013 3:41 pm
Joplin, Missouri, tornado damage and a southwestern desert storm

On May 21, 2011, a tornado ripped through Joplin, Mo. (Credit: Melissa Brandes/Shutterstock). A storm brews somewhere over the American Southwest (Credit: Paul B. Moore/Shutterstock).

Associating natural disasters with climate change — like some did last week with the massive tornado that touched down in Oklahoma — is a distortion that has been rattling around for nearly a decade or longer.

The most glaring example may be Al Gore’s portrayal of Hurricane Katrina in his 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth. According to Gore, the hurricane was the outcome of unchecked anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and a harbinger of what’s to come.

But he was quickly called out for misrepresenting the science to gain support for his cause. And as the dust settled in Oklahoma, it became clear that 1) the situation sucked, and 2) the science is still out on whether or not there is a concrete connection between global warming and these monster storms.

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Video: Global Water Changes Help Define the Anthropocene

By Tasha Eichenseher | May 21, 2013 12:18 pm

The Global Water System Project at the University of Bonn, in Germany, just released a video on water in the Anthropocene. If you can get past the melodramatic narration, there is a pretty stellar data visualization, based on a lot of federal agency data, that illustrates how the human footprint has changed the global water cycle.

A satellite image of farmland in the United States

Nearly 70 percent of usable freshwater resources go to irrigating fields and raising livestock. A satellite image shows the percentage of the U.S. covered in crops. Photo courtesy gwsp.org/ www.anthropocene.info.

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MORE ABOUT: anthropocene, video, water
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Water Works

Water Works is a forum for telling stories about where our drinking water and food come from. It traces tap water back to its source, demystifies tales of pollution, dissects infrastructure, digs into soil quality, explores efficient farming, touches on energy and climate issues, and gets to the root of predicted food and water security problems.
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