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Our Daily Planet: White House Sinkhole Grow (no seriously!), Kilauea Update & Happy World Turtle Day!
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Wednesday, May 24th, 2018

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Photo: U.S. Geological Survey
Volcano Keeps Blowing, Sending Toxic Gas and Lava Bombs Flying

The news seems to breaks daily or even hourly on the continuing eruption of the Kilauea Volcano in HawiaiiCNN reported yesterday that an explosive eruption occurred at the summit at approximately 3:45 a.m. local time, according to the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency. The resulting ash cloud rose to 8,000 feet and drifted southwest, according to the United States Geological Survey.  The government warned local residents that the danger from this eruption is ash fallout and lava bombs.  The exploding volcano is sending large balls of searing lava into the sky and there is no way to predict where the lava bombs will land -- the first serious injury from the volcano occurred over the weekend when a resident was hit by one. Now molten lava is flowing into the ocean, and also threatens a local power plant.  

Why This Matters:  The lava is changing, making the danger of the eruptions even greater than in earlier days, according to Earther The lava coming up now is newer and hotter, and more rich in toxic gasses.  The combination of higher volumes of lava erupting and a higher gas content is making for much taller fountains—in some cases, over 100 meters (300 feet) high—than were seen a few days ago. The dangers from the volcano are growing, displacing more residents and disrupting businesses, with no end in sight 

To Go Deeper:  Watch this video from ABC news yesterday,  
ABC News: Lava Hitting Ocean Making Toxic Cloud


Ocean Acidification Spells Trouble for Kelp Forests

Kelp forests are integral to the health of coastal ecosystems and thrive in cold nutrient-rich waters from California's northern coast to Alaska's the Aleutian Islands. They provide vital habitat to hundreds or thousands of species of invertebrates, fishes, and other algae. Kelp forests can naturally fluctuate in density, depending on fluctuations of warm water (they prefer cold), nutrient levels, storms, and upticks in urchin colonies that like to feed on kelp. But now, Australian scientists have identified another risk to the kelp forests of the oceans: increased ocean acidity caused by climate change. Ever more acidic oceans could encourage weedy submarine grasslands to replace the rich habitats of the coastal kelp forests. Researchers ran their experiments in the ocean near natural volcanic seeps rich in carbon dioxide to observe the changes to seafloor ecosystems as water chemistry changes with greater levels of dissolved carbon dioxide. 

“Carbon emissions might boost plant life in the oceans, but not all plant life will benefit equally...Unfortunately, the carbon dioxide that humans are pumping into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels gets absorbed by the ocean and favors weedy turfs, which replace kelp forests that support higher coastal productivity and biodiversity,” said Sean Connell, of the Environment Institute at the University of Adelaide.

Why This Matters: The loss of kelp forests could mean the loss of the countless species that rely on them for habitat, such as sea otters (!!). We're still learning how ocean acidification will damage marine environments, the revelations about coral reefs were troubling but this new research shows the extent to which anthropogenic climate change can warm the oceans and harm biodiversity throughout a range of ecosystems. 

 Climate Change

High tides have started to creep into the outlines of Norfolk's former shorelines, outlined in yellow and orange. These are areas that were filled in years ago and built up. Credit: Kyle Spencer/City of Norfolk
Norfolk's Poorest Citizens Fear the City's Climate Resiliency Plan Will Forget Them

Norfolk, VA is a city with one of the fastest rates of sea level rise in the country—half a foot since 1992, about twice the global average. It's also home to Naval Station Norfolk which supports naval forces in the United States Fleet Forces Command and is the largest naval station in the world. As Inside Climate News reported, climate change, sinking land and changing ocean currents have turned Norfolk into a case study on the vulnerability of coastal cities to flooding in a warming world. Over the past two decades, the city has experienced twice as many days of tidal flooding as it had in the previous three decades. At the same time, a warming climate has brought more frequent heavy downpours.

Like many coastal cities facing the repercussions of climate change, Norfolk has begun raising streets, installing pumps and planning major floodwalls. It has a bolder plan to halt development near flood-prone areas and redevelop public housing communities that receive the worst of the flooding with a mixed-income neighborhood while ceding low-lying spots to open space. Norfolk's median income is below the national average, and many of its poorest citizens are packed into public housing projects or run-down neighborhoods and these residents are worried that they will have nowhere to go. The city has a history of demolishing housing for poor, black residents and not following through on promises to help them find somewhere better.

Why This Matters: While Norfolk wants to be an example in climate resiliency and adaptation for other coastal communities dealing with similar flooding issues and shifting coastlines, it can't forget about its most vulnerable residents. There are already long waitlists for public housing in the city and a redevelopment plan could lead to an even bigger shortage if not enough new low-income housing is made accessible. If Norfolk is truly to be an example of resiliency, it has to lift up all residents as it works to physically lift the city above the flood zone. 


New Firm Helps Millennials Buy Renewable Energy and Save Money

If you have ever wanted to use your buying power to purchase renewable energy but did not know how, there's a startup that wants to help.  Acadia Power, which was founded in 2015, is an online platform that provides consumers access to community solar savings, home efficiency tips and programs, and automatic electricity supply savings when available in your local market.  Acadia organizes pools of consumers to push for and purchase renewable power from their local utilities.  Arcadia now has members in all 50 states and deals with 100 utilities on behalf of its members. Last year, it received a $6 million investment from Energy Impact Partners, to scale the concept and allow more customers to vote with their dollars to lower their carbon footprint.

Our own ODP Millennial survey, which we published a couple weeks ago, showed that Millennials, in particular, want to know where their power is coming from, and have a strong preference for renewables over fossil fuels.  But until now, as individual consumers, they had very little leverage to use their power purchases to drive change.  And they cannot install solar power on their rooftops because most of them don't own rooftops -- 64 percent of them are renters. 

Why This Matters:  The more customers, and in particular millennials, have a choice, the more they are choosing renewable power over fossil fuels.  And if they can lower their energy costs at the same time, that is even better.  The company's CEO, 33-year-old Kiran Bhatraju, who grew up in coal country in Kentucky, is focused on getting more customers, which will, in turn, drive energy policy changes in Washington or in state governments, as well as altering energy purchases by big utilities.  We hope they will help more people (of all ages) vote with their dollars.



The Latest EPA Disgrace 

Another day, another Pruitt blunder.  Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency held a "summit" on the toxic chemicals contaminating drinking water.  It was an effort to repair the damage caused when last week it came to light that the agency tried to delay publication of a study recommending changes to the health standard for exposure to those chemicals due to the "PR nightmare" it would have caused.  These toxic chemical are the ones used as flame retardants, and they have been discovered in drinking water in numerous communities around the country, particularly near military installations, as we reported over the last few weeks.  

According to Politico, a small group of journalists was permitted to attend Administrator Pruitt's opening remarks at the event -- which was attended by federal and state regulators, along with business organizations and environmental groups. But those journalists were shortly after those remarks, the reporters were escorted out and other news organizations were barred from attending. EPA later said it would allow reporters to attend the afternoon sessions of the summit, three hours after initially ejecting the media.  In addition, many representatives from the communities that have been exposed to the chemicals, known as PFAS, were also denied access to the summit.  

Why This Matters:  EPA's refusal to allow concerned citizens and the media access to events like this one undermine the public's ability to know what the government is doing and to have their views heard by agency decision makers.  So much for government "by the people" and so much for "draining the swamp."  Lobbyists and business interests had plenty of access to Pruitt. Those members of the public actually harmed by this toxic pollution -- not so much.  


Happy World Turtle Day!

There's truly a day for everything and today we celebrate turtles (and tortoises!).  
Why This Matters:  Turtles belong to one of the oldest reptile groups in the world (going back 200 million years to the time of the dinosaurs)– beating snakes, crocodiles, and alligators. They've been around for a really long time but because of humans, 129 of approximately 300 species of turtle and tortoise on Earth today are either vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. 

One Cool Thing: In US waters loggerhead sea turtles will often return, sometimes over thousands of miles, to the beach where they hatched to lay their eggs. They use Earth’s magnetism to navigate back to their home beaches. But, as it turns out they might not always make it back to the exact beach where they were born, and instead might opt for beaches with similar magnetic properties--this is likely due to human interference according to biologists at UNC Chapel Hill. (watch the video above to get a better idea). 

Go Deeper: Currently, endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles are  nesting on Corpus Christi, TX beaches. This current nesting season is a little slower than last year's record but officials hope things will pick up before nesting season ends in June. The Padre Island turtle patrol works tirelessly to save the endangered species, removing eggs from the beach and taking them to the sea turtle lab at park headquarters for incubation. Generally, the turtles hatch in about 48 days. If you happen to be vacationing on Texas' beaches this holiday weekend and you spot a turtle nest, follow these steps



One Funny Thing:  White House Sinkhole Growing

Now some of you may think this is stating the obvious, but there is a sinkhole at the White House and its growing.  No, really, there is a real sinkhole (not just a metaphorical one) and it seems to be expanding every day.  No worries, though, the MSM is all over this story and will get to the bottom of it!  Ha!  Or at least keep an eye on it and update us with BREAKING NEWS as it happens!
And finally, just a few quick ODP updates.  First, as always, thanks to all our readers -- the ones who've been with us since the beginning and new ones who have discovered us only recently.  We really appreciate your kind words, emails, and tips! Second, welcome to our summer intern, Rae, who just started this week.  And, third, if you have not seen it, we just launched on Instagram: @our_daily_planet!  
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