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Blowing Ice Bubbles, Big Comeback for Bighorns, What the Heck Is a Frost Quake?
Our top picks: today's environmental news and best #greenreads.

Frosted quakes: As further proof that Canada helped inspire Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin’s wasteland beyond The Wall, Toronto is experiencing a phenomenon called “frost quakes,” or “cryoseisms.” A frost quake occurs when water penetrates the soil and then rapidly freezes and expands. This causes extreme stress on the dirt, which is then released in the form of a loud boom. So yeah, it’s so cold in Canada right now, the ground is literally exploding. Outside

Squeaky wheels, no grease: For years now, hundreds of people across Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Texas have been complaining that fracking activities are contaminating their well water, but the industry maintains that “such problems rarely happen.” Well, an investigation by the Associated Press concluded on Sunday that those four states also have hundreds of confirmed reports of water pollution resulting from oil and gas drilling. Before you go shooting your pistols in the air, I should tell you that on the very same day, Reuters reported, “Federal regulators are unlikely to step up enforcement of potential water contamination cases linked to natural gas drilling … given a lack of political will and limited resources to pursue such cases.” Associated Press, Reuters

Pass the salt: Applying rock salt to winter roads harms water quality, suffocates roadside plants, attracts salt-craving animals to their roadkill fates, and generally just mucks up the environment. It’s so bad that Canada categorized road salt as a toxin back in 2004. While the United States doesn't want to swear off the salty stuff—especially with a polar vortex breathing down our necks—some states are experimenting with alternatives, including beet juice, sugarcane molasses, and cheese brine. Anybody else suddenly hungry? Smithsonian

A decent proposal: The ammonium nitrate facility that exploded in Texas last April killed 15 people, injured 160, and flattened 150 buildings. But it also kicked off a conversation on how to better protect the nation’s other 473 chemical facilities. Fulfilling a request from President Obama at the time of the incident, several federal agencies jointly published a list of safety proposals last week. The recommendations include strengthening laws, expanding the number of chemicals considered to be dangerous, and improving guidelines on storing and handling ammonium nitrate, in particular. While some environment and safety advocates argue the list doesn’t go far enough, it has rankled the American Chemistry Council which worries the proposals will saddle the industry with more red tape. Huffington Post

Ogallala la la la: Aquifers are a tough topic. On the one hand, people don't get fired up about what sounds like an enormous, imaginary lake under the Earth’s surface. On the other, humans have this thing where they die without water, and aquifers are sort of like our key to survival, growth, happiness, etc. So perhaps if we understood a little more about how aquifers work and what they look like, the threats they (and we) face would feel a little more real. Let’s start with the Ogallala, the water source for no less than eight states. (And just wait’ll you see our handy infographics!) OnEarth

Counting sheep: Thanks to diseases (introduced by the domestic sheep industry), unregulated hunting, habitat loss, and mining pollution, bighorn sheep have been steadily marching toward extinction since settlers came to the American West. Today, the population is making a comeback, thanks to a lot of hard work and cold cash from government agencies and, get this, hunting interest groups. Once an iconic symbol of the West’s resilience, the bighorn’s success is now arguably an emblem for cooperation in conservation. New York Times

DAILY DISTRACTION

Fun on the tundra: Just in case frost quakes don't get you excited about our current polar vortex problem, this little DIY science project ought to do the trick. Because nothing says, “Holy cuss, it’s cold out there!” like watching soap bubbles freeze solid. (Note: Please refrain from eating frozen soap bubbles.) Apartment Therapy

OTHER HEADLINES

Dirtiest Coal’s Rebirth in Europe Flattens Medieval Towns Bloomberg

Scientists Warn Planet Likely to Warm at Least 4ºC by 2100 Climate Central

Colorado River Drought Forces a Painful Reckoning for States New York Times

From Fork to Furnace: New York City to Heat Homes With Table Scraps Mother Nature Network

Tips: @OnEarthMag (tag it #greenreads)

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