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Number of Human-induced Earthquakes is on the Rise

Mining projects and dams are responsible for 60% of human-induced or anthropomorphic earthquakes around the world, according to data from the Seismological Society of America.

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Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor

Albany, CA, United States (4E) – Mining projects and dams are responsible for 60% of human-induced or anthropomorphic earthquakes around the world, according to data from the Seismological Society of America.

The Human-Induced Earthquake Database (HiQuake), the world’s most complete database of earthquake sequences proposed to have been triggered by human activity, reveals that mining projects (37%) and water impounded behind dams (23%) are the most common causes of induced earthquakes.

Unconventional oil and gas extraction projects using fracking or hydraulic fracturing are now a frequent addition to the database, said Miles Wilson, a geophysicist at Durham University working on the HiQuake research effort.

Other human activities related to unconventional extraction contribute to induced earthquakes as well. The most obvious induced seismicity trend in HiQuake is the recent increase in the number of waste-fluid disposal projects reported to have induced earthquakes. This increase is consistent with increased waste-fluid disposal activities in the USA.

“Any successful hydraulic fracturing operation induces microseismicity because the rock is fractured. The number of hydraulically fractured boreholes has increased in recent years, so there is obviously going to be a trend between the number of successfully hydraulically fractured boreholes and the amount of associated microseismicity,” said Wilson.

“The more important trend is that between hydraulically fractured boreholes and unusually large earthquakes, most likely related to the reactivation of pre-existing geological faults.”

HiQuake, which is freely available at http://www.inducedearthquakes.org, was first developed in 2016 by a group of researchers from Durham and Newcastle Universities, who were funded by the Dutch oil and gas company Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij to review the full global extent of induced earthquakes.

The largest proposed induced earthquake in the database was the 2008 magnitude 7.9 Wenchuan earthquake that occurred in China in response to the impoundment of the Zipingpu Reservoir only a few kilometers away from the mainshock epicenter.

The HiQuake researchers were initially surprised to find that such large magnitude earthquakes were proposed as induced but most of the stress released in these cases is of natural tectonic origin.

“The anthropogenic activity is just the final straw that releases this built-up stress,” said Wilson.

Wilson and colleagues were also surprised by the variety of proposed causes for these quakes, including nuclear explosions and the building of heavy skyscrapers.

“With hindsight we probably shouldn’t be surprised by any anthropogenic cause. All anthropogenic projects influence forces acting in the Earth’s crust, for example by adding or removing mass, so we shouldn’t be surprised that the Earth responds to these changes and that in some cases earthquakes are the response.”

Human activities that act on the crust are likely to multiply in the future, Wilson noted, as projects to tap into geothermal sources of energy and to store carbon dioxide emissions become more widespread.

To build the database, Wilson and his colleagues analyzed peer-reviewed literature, academic presentations, media articles, and industry and government reports for projects where scientific evidence suggests that the human activity was the cause of an earthquake sequence.

Each entry in the database corresponds to a project, or phase of a project. The projects extend back almost 150 years, with most maximum observed magnitude earthquakes falling between magnitude 3 and 4.

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Environment

World’s Largest Offshore Wind Farm Company Takes Huge Gamble on U.S.

Danish company Ørsted A/S, the world’s largest offshore wind farm company, has acquired U.S. offshore wind developer Deepwater Wind for $510 million.

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Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor

Copenhagen, Denmark (4E) – Danish company Ørsted A/S, the world’s largest offshore wind farm company, has acquired U.S. offshore wind developer Deepwater Wind for $510 million.

Deepwater Wind built the Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island, the only commercial offshore wind farm in the United States. Block Island generates 30 megawatts of wind power.

Deepwater Wind will be renamed “Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind” after its acquisition by Ørsted finalizes before the year ends. It was formerly owned by U.S.-based hedge fund D.E. Shaw Group. Ørsted took complete ownership of Deepwater Wind by acquiring a 100% equity interest.

Ørsted said that Deepwater Wind’s portfolio has a total potential capacity of some 3.3 gigawatts (GW). This includes offshore wind development projects in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland and New York. Orsted’s offshore wind portfolio in the U.S. has a capacity of 5.5 GW.

CEO of Ørsted Wind Power Martin Neubert welcomed the deal. He said the acquisition will create the “number one offshore wind platform in North America.”

Neubert said the deal will merge “Deepwater Wind’s longstanding expertise in originating, developing and permitting offshore wind projects in the U.S., and Ørsted’s unparalleled track-record in engineering, constructing, and operating large-scale offshore wind farms.”

Thomas Brostrøm, president of Ørsted North America, said the company can see a very large industry emerging.

“We believe that, over the next 10 years, we can see 10 gigawatts of offshore wind being built—and we want to be in a good position to take advantage of this growth.”

Ten gigawatts of offshore wind is a massive capacity. Ørsted says it will only have 7.45GW by the end of 2020. That includes offshore wind farms in the UK, Denmark, Germany and Taiwan. Ørsted operates more than 1,000 offshore wind turbines worldwide.

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Environment

California will Orbit Small Cube Satellites to Monitor Pollution 24/7

California will become the first state in the Union to launch its own satellites for pollution monitoring.

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Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor

Sacramento, CA, United States (4E) – California will become the first state in the Union to launch its own satellites for pollution monitoring.

Governor Jerry Brown announced this epoch-making event over the weekend. To get this done, California is partnering with Planet Labs, Inc to develop a customized cube satellites, or CubeSats that will “pinpoint — and stop — destructive emissions with unprecedented precision, on a scale that’s never been done before.”

Technical details of the satellites will be announced later but those in the known said the new California satellites will likely be a constellation of 6U CubeSats with instruments to detect certain gases and particulates. An orbit with the satellite passing across the entire state along its north/south axis seems most likely. Multiple satellites in a constellation are very likely.

Design of the satellites will be financed by the Overlook International Foundation and the Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust. No project costs were revealed, and no launch date has been projected.was announced. But costs will probably run only into the hundreds of thousands of dollars since only small CubeSats will be used.

“With science still under attack—we’re under attack by a lot of people, including Donald Trump—and with the climate threat growing, we’re going to launch a satellite—our own damn satellite to figure out where the pollution is and how we’re going to end it,” said Brown.

California’s satellite fleet will be used by the state’s Air Resources Board to complement existing climate observatories. It will precisely locate the “point source” of pollutants it observes as they are emitted. This real-time detection will allow California authorities to control these pollution sources more effectively.

Data collected by the satellite constellation will be shared with the public through a partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund. Planet Lab will develop and operate the satellites.

“These satellite technologies are part of a new era of environmental innovation that is supercharging our ability to solve problems,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “They won’t cut emissions by themselves, but they will make invisible pollution visible and generate the transparent, actionable, data we need to protect our health, our environment and our economies.”

EDF is launching its own satellite to that end (MethaneSAT), but will also be collaborating with California in the creation of a shared Climate Data Partnership to make sure the data from these platforms is widely accessible.

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Major Shifts in Global Freshwater Uncovered by NASA

Human mismanagement of scare freshwater resources is having a huge impact on the growing scarcity of this vital source of life across the globe.

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Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor

Washington, DC, United States (4E) – Human mismanagement of scare freshwater resources is having a huge impact on the growing scarcity of this vital source of life across the globe.

In a first-of-its-kind study, scientists combined an array of NASA satellite observations of the Earth with data on human activities to map locations where freshwater is changing around the globe and why. The study published today in the journal Nature found that Earth’s wet land areas are getting wetter and dry areas are getting drier due to a variety of factors, including human water management, climate change and natural cycles.

A team led by Matt Rodell of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, used 14 years of observations from the U.S./German-led Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) spacecraft mission to track global trends in freshwater in 34 regions around the world. Researchers used satellite precipitation data from the Global Precipitation Climatology Project, NASA/U.S. Geological Survey Landsat imagery, irrigation maps, and published reports of human activities related to agriculture, mining and reservoir operations. Only through analysis of the combined data sets were the scientists able to get a full understanding of the reasons for Earth’s freshwater changes, as well as the sizes of those trends.

“This is the first time that we’ve used observations from multiple satellites in a thorough assessment of how freshwater availability is changing everywhere on Earth,” said Rodell. “A key goal was to distinguish shifts in terrestrial water storage caused by natural variability — wet periods and dry periods associated with El Niño and La Niña, for example — from trends related to climate change or human impacts, like pumping groundwater out of an aquifer faster than it is replenished.”

Freshwater is found in lakes, rivers, soil, snow, groundwater and ice. Freshwater loss from the ice sheets at the poles — attributed to climate change — has implications for sea level rise. On land, freshwater is one of the most essential of Earth’s resources, for drinking water and agriculture. While some regions’ water supplies are relatively stable, others experienced increases or decreases.

“What we are witnessing is major hydrologic change,” said co-author Jay Famiglietti of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which also managed the GRACE mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “We see a distinctive pattern of the wet land areas of the world getting wetter — those are the high latitudes and the tropics — and the dry areas in between getting dryer. Embedded within the dry areas we see multiple hotspots resulting from groundwater depletion.”

Famiglietti noted that while water loss in some regions, like the melting ice sheets and alpine glaciers, is clearly driven by warming climate, it will require more time and data to determine the driving forces behind other patterns of freshwater change.

“The pattern of wet-getting-wetter, dry-getting-drier during the rest of the 21st century is predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change models, but we’ll need a much longer dataset to be able to definitively say whether climate change is responsible for the emergence of any similar pattern in the GRACE data,” said Famiglietti.

The twin GRACE satellites, launched in 2002 as a joint mission with the German Aerospace Center (DLR), precisely measured the distance between the two spacecraft to detect changes in Earth’s gravity field caused by movements of mass on the planet below. Using this method, GRACE tracked monthly variations in terrestrial water storage until its science mission ended in October 2017.

The GRACE satellite observations alone couldn’t tell Rodell, Famiglietti and their colleagues what was causing the apparent trends. “We examined information on precipitation, agriculture and groundwater pumping to find a possible explanation for the trends estimated from GRACE,” said co-author Hiroko Beaudoing of Goddard and the University of Maryland in College Park.

For instance, although pumping groundwater for agricultural uses is a significant contributor to freshwater depletion throughout the world, groundwater levels are also sensitive to cycles of persistent drought or rainy conditions. Famiglietti noted that such a combination was likely the cause of the significant groundwater depletion observed in California’s Central Valley from 2007 to 2015, when decreased groundwater replenishment from rain and snowfall combined with increased pumping for agriculture.

Southwestern California lost 4 gigatons of freshwater per year during the period. A gigaton of water would fill 400,000 Olympic swimming pools. A majority of California’s freshwater comes in the form of rainfall and snow that collect in the Sierra Nevada snowpack and then is managed as it melts into surface waters through a series of reservoirs. When natural cycles led to less precipitation and caused diminished snowpack and surface waters, people relied on groundwater more heavily.

The team’s analyses also identified large, decade-long trends in terrestrial freshwater storage that do not appear to be directly related to human activities. Natural cycles of high or low rainfall can cause a trend that is unlikely to persist, said Rodell. An example is Africa’s western Zambezi basin and Okavango Delta, a vital watering hole for wildlife in northern Botswana. In this region, water storage increased at an average rate of 29 gigatons per year from 2002 to 2016. This wet period during the GRACE mission followed at least two decades of dryness. Rodell believes it is a case of natural variability that occurs over decades in this region of Africa.

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