Hurricane Florence

  • At least 33 people have died and 340,000 people are still without power after Hurricane Florence struck North and South Carolina last week. Although the storm has weakened to a tropical depression as it moves inland, water levels continue to rise (CBS News).
  • Researchers estimate the storm brought 50% more rain due to the heat from climate change increasing evaporation. Scientists ran models under current and past climate data to estimate the difference due to climate change, but the study has not yet undergone peer review (CBC News).
  • Rainfall displaced enough coal ash from a Duke Energy dump site to fill 180 dump trucks. Coal ash is a byproduct of coal-fired power plants and contains high levels of mercury, lead, arsenic, and other toxic heavy metals. Duke Energy has lobbied for decades to resist environmental efforts to clean up the pits, the runoff of which will now enter drinking water and recreational waterways (WUNC).

Higher Education and Academia

  • The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has adopted new standards that will allow for the revocation of AAAS Fellow status if the fellow has been found to have engaged in sexual or scientific misconduct or harassment (AAAS).
  • A review of the literature on the effectiveness of peer review in grant applications was published this week. It found a poor ability of reviewers to discriminate bad proposals from better ones and a focus on publishing metrics to determine research quality (Frontiers in Research Metrics and Analysis).

Federal Agencies

  • William Happer, a 79 year old physicist and emeritus professor at Princeton, has joined the Trump administration’s National Security Council. Happer has called concern over climate change a “cult movement”, accused NASA and NOAA of faking data, and believes an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide will benefit the environment by increasing plant growth. Happer has no formal training in climate science (Science Mag).
  • NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine is considering selling naming rights to NASA rockets and missions including advertisement space. NASA has historically avoided brand promotions due to corruption concerns (Washington Post).
  • Rice University has released a report on the role and history of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology during the last four administrations (PCAST Report; PDF).
  • Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt is in discussions to become a consultant for a Kentucky coal mining group. Under federal ethics guidelines, Pruitt cannot lobby the federal government for five years after leaving his position (New York Times).

Public Health

  • The Senate appears ready to vote on a bipartisan bill, the Opioid Crisis Response Act, designed to combat the opioid epidemic which killed 72,000 Americans in 2017. The package has bills sponsored by 70 Senators, and includes money for research into non-addictive painkillers, border security, and changes to how the FDA regulates opioids (Washington Post).

Climate Change

  • The Trump administration is preparing to reduce regulations on methane emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency plans to weaken rules requiring companies to monitor and repair methane leaks, while the Interior Department is releasing a final rule that removes restrictions on intentionally burning methane at drilling sites. Methane is 25 better at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (New York Times).
  • State and local politicians are holding high level meetings in San Francisco this week to discuss how the US can meet its Paris Agreement obligations without federal action. A study in June found that the US was only on track to get about halfway to the promised cut of 26% below 2005 levels by 2025. While emissions from electric grids are relatively easy to cut, emissions from cars, trucks, agriculture, and industry require more difficult cultural changes (New York Times). 
  • The United Nations Secretary General warned this week that we are rapidly approaching the point where runaway climate change will be unavoidable. Runaway climate change is caused by the positive feedback loop created when carbon frozen in Arctic permafrost thaws, releasing that carbon and further warming the planet (New York Times).
  • New York, Maryland, and Connecticut plan to join California in banning hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), potent, short-lived greenhouse gases used in refrigeration and air conditioning (Inside Climate News).
  • California has joined Hawaii in being the only states to commit to 100% renewable energy utilities by 2045. California Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill after it passed the state house after concerns about feasibility and utility bills (LA Times).

Miscellaneous

  • A fire in the National Museum of Brazil destroyed thousands of cultural and scientific artifacts. The museum served as a major research institution and housed items such as the first fossil discovered in Brazil, the oldest female skull found in the Americas, Brazil’s largest meteorite, and over 5 million insect specimens. The museum did not possess an adequate fire suppression system (New York Times). Scientists warn the same thing could happen in the US due to museum budget cuts (LA Times).
  • NASA launched ICESat-2, a satellite with a laser altimeter that will precisely measure changes in snow and ice at the poles, on September 15th. The altimeter has an accuracy of about half a centimeter, and will primarily measure ice caps and glaciers, although it will be used to measure forest canopy height as well (CBS News; NASA PDF).
  • The Vertebrate Genomes Project was announced this week, an effort by the Genome 10K consortium. The project aims to create reference quality, near gapless, near error-free, chromosomal level, haplotype-phased assemblies of representative species for all ~260 vertebrate orders (Sanger Institute).

Texas News

  • An Oklahoma company has announced plans to spend nearly $300 million in the Texas Permian Basin to expand natural gas production. The Permian Basin has already increased natural gas production more than 30% over the last year (MRT).
  • The Texas Education Agency is expecting a $3.5 billion funding decrease from the state over the next three years, mostly due to expected increases in revenue from local property taxes (Texas Tribune).
  • Some areas of West Texas are experiencing such drastic teacher shortages that they are hiring virtual instructors, who cost more than an in-person teacher (Texas Tribune).
  • Texas Senator Ted Cruz and democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke have agreed to three debates: September 21 in Dallas, September 30 in Houston, and October 16 in San Antonia; two debates will cover domestic policy, while the October debate will involve both foreign and domestic issues (Texas Tribune).

Events this week (central time)

  • The last day to register to vote in the midterms in Texas is October 9th! If you are not registered by then you cannot vote. Check your registration here! Interested in registering others to vote? Become a Volunteer Deputy Registrar by attending a training on Sept 19th or Sept 24th.
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