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Stanford Earth Matters

Science and insights for people who care about Earth, its resources and its environment

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Dry landscape

In a warming world, Cape Town’s ‘Day Zero’ drought won’t be an anomaly

Using new high-resolution simulations, researchers conclude that climate change made the Cape Town ‘Day Zero’ drought five to six times more likely and suggest extreme drought events could become common in southwestern South Africa by the end of the 21st century.

Northern California coast

Newly identified 'landfalling droughts' originate over ocean

Researchers have identified a new type of “landfalling drought” that originates over the ocean before traveling onto land, and which can cause larger, drier conditions than other droughts.

Loon balloon in flight

Gravity wave insights from internet-beaming balloons

A better understanding of how gravity waves in the upper atmosphere interact with the jet stream, polar vortex and other phenomena could be key to improved weather predictions and climate models.

Sliced sugarcane

Exploring the sustainability of the Indian sugar industry

Researchers analyzed the interconnected food, water and energy challenges that arise from the sugar industry in India – the second-largest producer of sugar worldwide – and how the political economy drives those challenges.

Infrastructure

Understanding environmental rollback

In a Q&A, environmental law Professor Deborah Sivas discusses a recent executive order that empowers federal agencies to override legal requirements for environmental reviews and community feedback related to major infrastructure projects.

Yangtze River

Accounting for nature in economies

Gross Domestic Product, the standard metric for measuring national economies, doesn’t account for the valuable services provided by nature. A new approach could help fill the gap.

Wastewater treatment

Desalination solution

Desalination – the conversion of saltwater to freshwater – has been limited by high operational costs. A new device capable of turning desalination waste into commercially valuable chemicals could make the process cheaper and more environmentally friendly.

Plants

Predicting plant water needs in a warmer, drier world

New research suggests dry air and warmer temperatures may prompt bigger than expected changes in how water moves through plants. The adjustment may allow plants to survive with less water in future droughts, while downshifting how much carbon they absorb.

Flood

Double-whammy weather

Like an undulating seesaw, weather in some regions swings from drought to heavy rain under the weight of climate-induced changes, a new study finds.

Waterways

Less water could sustain more Californians if we make every drop count

As climate change and population growth make drinking water costlier, here are six strategies to quench the state’s thirst without busting its budget.

SARS-CoV-2

Understanding spread of COVID-19

Much remains unknown about how the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads through the environment. Environmental engineers describe potential transmission pathways and their implications.

Broken pipe with water spraying

A better way to detect underground water leaks

Stanford researchers propose a new way to locate water leaks within the tangle of aging pipes found beneath many cities. The improvement could save time, money and billions of gallons of water.

Hoover Dam

Hydropower dams threaten fish habitats worldwide

New research maps the impacts of past and future hydropower development on fish habitats – and points to where restoration efforts may do the most good.

Rusty iron rebar

Rust offers a cheap way to filter arsenic-poisoned water

In regions that lack the resources to treat the contaminated water, it can lead to disease, cancer and even death.

Water flowing from eroded spillway of dam

More rain and less snow means increased flood risk

By analyzing more than two decades of data in the western U.S., scientists have shown that flood sizes increase exponentially as a higher fraction of precipitation falls as rain, offering insight into how flood risks may change in a warming world with less snow.

River and tree

Q&A: How wildfires threaten water quality

Stanford hydrologist Newsha Ajami, an appointee to California’s regional water quality board, discusses how wildfires affect water quality, and how we can better prepare for and react to the challenges.

Water

Q&A: Developing new sources for usable water

A five-year project led by a Stanford professor will research and develop cost-competitive and energy-efficient technologies to desalinate nontraditional water sources for diverse end uses from agriculture to municipal drinking water.

Water

Making California’s water supply resilient

Stanford researchers examine effective strategies to rising water scarcity concerns in the context of climate change.

water drop

Stanford researchers find smart faucets could aid in water conservation

An experiment with a water-saving “smart” faucet shows potential for reducing water use. The catch? Unbeknownst to study participants, the faucet’s smarts came from its human controller.

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