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Water crisis, undercounting emissions, ocean noise pollution: 3 stories you may have missed

© Photo Rodolphe Holler

Editor's note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. How one of the world’s wettest major cities ran out of water 

Poor city planning, exacerbated by climate change, leads to droughts and floods in one of India’s largest cities. 

The story: Development, mismanagement of watersheds and climate change are causing a water crisis in India’s sixth-largest city, Chennai, reported Anurag Kotoky and Karoline Kan for Bloomberg Green. Located on the Bay of Bengal in southern India, Chennai is vulnerable to extreme flooding during storms, which have become more frequent due to climate change. Meanwhile, increased development, pollution and urbanization have degraded the city’s watersheds, leaving citizens without access to clean water during droughts. 

The big picture: Recent research found one-third of the world’s population does not have access to clean drinking water. According to a new paper by Conservation International experts, ending the global water crisis will require local actions to address issues in specific watersheds. 

“Ending the water crisis starts in your back yard,” Conservation International’s Derek Vollmer, a freshwater scientist and co-author of the paper, told Conservation News. Cities and communities “should improve freshwater health in their own watersheds, by understanding the local challenges and working with other stakeholders to design lasting solutions.”

Read more here

According to a new study, urban areas across the United States are underreporting emissions — by a lot. 

The story: A recent study suggests that cities across the United States have undercounted their annual carbon emissions by nearly 20 percent on average, reported Chelsea Harvey for Scientific American. The study’s authors compiled figures on fossil fuel emissions from two dozen federal datasets and measurements of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to identify discrepancies between what cities are reporting and what is actually being emitted. These discrepancies, experts say, are most likely due to inconsistencies in the methods used across the country to calculate urban emissions.  

The big picture: Cities must have an accurate “starting point and assessment points along the way as they reduce emissions,” lead study author and climate scientist Kevin Gurney told Scientific American. “And right now, with these kinds of levels of uncertainty and inaccuracy that we’re seeing, it really makes it impossible for them to do that.” Because most climate mitigation efforts happen at the local level, developing a more sophisticated, standardized method for calculating annual emissions is critical for tracking climate action, the study’s authors said. 

Read more here

Noise pollution is increasingly harmful to fish and marine mammals, according to new research. 

The story: A recent study concluded that noisy human activities are disrupting marine species more than scientists previously thought, reported Sabrina Imbler for The New York Times. Sound can travel underwater across thousands of miles, which means that marine species can hear the buzz and thrum of virtually every vessel — from massive cargo ships to tiny speedboats — that plies the waters of their habitats. These sounds may seem harmless, but a growing body of research shows that noise can disrupt underwater communication between marine species, potentially affecting breeding, migration and hunting. 

The big picture: “Noise is about the easiest problem to solve in the ocean,” Steve Simpson, a co-author on the paper, told The New York Times. “We know exactly what causes noise, we know where it is, and we know how to stop it.” According to the study’s authors, boats — the greatest source of noise pollution on the ocean — can minimize their volume and impact by slowing down, switching to quieter propeller designs and avoiding sensitive ocean areas. 

Read more here.


Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Fish in French Polynesia (© Rodolphe Holler)

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