Monday, July 28, 2014

Carolina in the News

Check out the recent media mentions of sustainability-related programs, practices, and people at UNC:

Oyster Reefs Grow Faster than Sea-Level Rise
Phys Org (Research and Technology News)
Rising sea levels due to climate change and ice melt are threatening coastal ecosystems. Oyster reefs are particularly sensitive to additional habitat loss. Ninety-five percent of oyster reefs on the East Coast have already been lost due to habitat degradation and overfishing. Biologists Tony Rodriguez and Joel Fodrie at The University of North Carolina Marine Science Institute are studying how oyster reefs respond to sea-level rise and how shoreline restoration improves their chance of survival. They discovered that oyster reefs can grow up to ten times faster than previous estimates, fast enough to outpace even the most extreme predictions of sea-level rise. Their work provides guidance to produce the biggest and healthiest reef. Read more » 

Water Conservation and Financial Stability
National Geographic
Pricing is a powerful tool for shaping behavior, including water use. More water utilities are adopting water rates designed to encourage customers to conserve. This is great news from a conservation standpoint, but the unintended result can be unexpected reductions in revenue for water utilities. The Environmental Finance Center at The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill developed a tool to help water systems anticipate revenue risks. The Water Utility Revenue Risk Assessment Tool allows users to compare two different rate structures and to assess which one offers greater revenue resiliency. Read more » 

Air Pollution Controls Lower NC Death Rates; Nature
Researchers at Stanford University found that climate change is leading to global air stagnation, which worsens air quality by trapping pollution in the lower atmosphere. “This study shows how widespread the effects of air stagnation will be,” says Jason West, an environmental scientist at UNC Chapel Hill. Poor air quality results in more cases of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases. Over the past few decades, policies in response to legislation such as the Clean Air Act and North Carolina’s 2002 Clean Smokestacks Act have improved NC’s air quality. Sulfur dioxide emissions in NC have dropped 92 percent since 2005, and half of NC’s aging coal plants have shut down. In order to determine whether stricter pollution controls have affected public health in North Carolina, researchers at Duke University combined environmental and health-related data from 1993 to 2010. The study found a correlation between air pollution control and a substantial decline in deaths from respiratory illnesses such as asthma and emphysema. Read more » 

Scientists Map Sea Floor for Wind Energy; UNC-TV
North Carolina’s coastline boasts some of the strongest and steadiest winds in the nation. To determine appropriate locations for offshore wind turbines, marine science researchers at UNC are working to map and explore North Carolina’s sea floor. Avery Paxton, a graduate student in Biology at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences, studies the rocky reefs off of North Carolina’s coast. Paxton identifies important reefs that must be protected from wind turbine construction. To identify ideal wind turbine locations, researchers at UNC Chapel Hill’s Institute of Marine Sciences deployed two buoys between Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras to collect information on water and atmospheric conditions in the Atlantic. Researchers at UNC are part of a joint research effort to map the sea floor for wind energy, led by The National Ocean Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, UNC and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Only 7 percent of the Southeast’s sea floor has been mapped with modern sonars and hydrographical surveys. Read more » 

UNC Creates a Renewable Energy Future
Rocky Mountain Institute
The oldest public university in the nation is embracing modern technologies to fulfill its commitment to the state’s environmental health and the efficient use of energy. The University of North Carolina recently sent a team to Rocky Mountain Institute’s eLab Accelerator to learn how it can employ more renewable energy on its 17 campuses. The team focused on solar photovoltaics as a potentially valuable source of energy for the UNC system. The team learned that the North Carolina utility and regulatory environment presents challenges to emerging renewable energy business models, and that solar energy as a grid resource is largely undervalued. Also, given the current tax‐credit business models and the UNC system’s capital availability, building and financing large‐scale renewable energy resources will require external sources of funding. During Accelerator, the UNC team developed a list of funding options, identified primary team members, met and built relationships with utility representatives, further developed their project vision, and came up with a plan for next steps. The team is developing techniques that will benefit North Carolina in the future. UNC currently spends about $1,000 per student per year on energy. Its financial goal is to save the state $1 billion over 20 years. Read more » 

Discovering New N.C. Plants in the 21st Century
In North Carolina, two or three new plant species are described and given scientific names each year. For 25 years, Alan Weakley, director of the UNC Herbarium, has been writing “The Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States,” an ever-growing book that now describes 7,000 plant species. The most recent draft is available online at the UNC Herbarium website, and Weakley’s work will soon be available as an app called FloraQuest. Read more »

Thanks to UNC News Services for finding these great stories AND compiling the summaries! You can find more UNC media coverage and stories online at