Stanford University
Top stories of 2022

Our picks: Top 10 stories of 2022

Our list includes a mix of favorites, high-impact stories, and some of our most-read research coverage from a year of new beginnings.

BY Josie Garthwaite
ClockDecember 15, 2022

As 2022 draws to a close, we are looking back at research highlights from the units that came together this year to form the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability. The school launched in September. 

These stories provided insights on sustainability challenges including wildfire smoke impacts, methane leaks, electric car charging, extreme heat, nuclear waste, sea-level rise, illegal fishing, and much more. In many cases, they also pointed to solutions. 

Early in the year, as U.S. municipalities weighed banning natural gas hookups from new construction, Stanford scientists found that gas stoves emit far more climate-warming methane than once thought, and most of the emissions occur while the stove is off. 

Other researchers documented methane leaking from oil and gas operations in the Permian Basin in New Mexico in amounts greater than previously estimated, and proposed a solution for cutting off methane leaks as soon as possible.

In February, as the Biden administration prepared to launch a multibillion-dollar effort to expand forest thinning and prescribed burns in 11 Western states, scientists identified swaths of forest and shrublands that face elevated fire risks because of the way local ecosystems use water. 

Others revealed in stark detail how the effects of worsening wildfires now extend far beyond burn zones. Research published in September showed that millions of Americans are routinely exposed to toxic particle pollution from wildfire smoke at levels rarely seen just a decade ago – and provided critical information for air quality regulation and wildfire mitigation efforts.

Extreme heat waves affected millions of people around the world in 2022, particularly in Europe and Asia, and a long-lasting heat dome brought historic, blistering temperatures to the U.S. West. Stanford scholars explained extreme heat’s impacts on workplace risks, marginalized communities, and the economy.

In a year that saw California and then New York move to ban sales of new gas-powered cars by 2035, Stanford researchers showed the adoption of electric vehicles will result in large costs for generating, transmitting, and storing more power. But shifting current EV charging from home to work and from night to day could cut costs and help the grid.

Read on to find our top 10 picks from coverage of Stanford scientists studying Earth, climate, and sustainability this year. 

Rethinking cooking with gas

Natural gas stoves release methane – a potent greenhouse gas – and other pollutants through leaks and incomplete combustion. Stanford researchers estimate that methane leaking from stoves inside U.S. homes has the same climate impact as about 500,000 gasoline-powered cars and the stoves can expose people to respiratory disease-triggering pollutants.

January 27, 2022

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Researchers identify ‘double-hazard’ zones for wildfire in the West

Rapidly growing communities in the American West’s forests and shrublands are nestled in zones where local soil and plant traits amplify the effect of climate change on wildfire hazards and lead to bigger burns.

February 7, 2022

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New model may improve Bay Area seismic hazard maps

Using the Santa Cruz Mountains as a natural laboratory, researchers have built a 3D tectonic model that clarifies the link between earthquakes and mountain building along the San Andreas fault for the first time. The findings may be used to improve seismic hazard maps of the Bay Area.

February 25, 2022

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Methane leaks are far worse than estimates, at least in New Mexico

Using airborne sensors that see methane in the air, Stanford researchers say leaks are more worrisome than thought, but hope lies in the sensing technology itself.

March 24, 2022

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Mapping risks of labor abuse and illegal fishing

A new modeling approach combines machine learning and human insights to map the regions and ports most at risk for illicit practices, like forced labor or illegal catch, and identifies opportunities for mitigating such risks.

April 5, 2022

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Small modular reactors produce high levels of radioactive nuclear waste

Small modular reactors, long touted as the future of nuclear energy, will actually generate more radioactive waste than conventional nuclear power plants, according to research from Stanford and the University of British Columbia.

May 30, 2022

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Extreme heat’s impacts on labor

Few regulations exist to protect laborers from increasingly frequent extreme heat events. Stanford experts explain extreme heat’s impacts on workplace risks, marginalized communities, and the economy.

July 20, 2022

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Stanford researchers model thawing at base of Antarctic ice sheet

Across Antarctica, some parts of the base of the ice sheet are frozen, while others are thawed. Scientists show that if some currently frozen areas were also to thaw, it could increase ice loss from glaciers that are not currently major sea-level contributors.

September 14, 2022

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Charging cars at home at night is not the way to go

The move to electric vehicles will result in large costs for generating, transmitting, and storing more power. Shifting current EV charging from home to work and night to day could cut costs and help the grid, according to a new Stanford study.

September 22, 2022

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Wildfire smoke is unraveling decades of air quality gains

Stanford researchers have developed an AI model for predicting dangerous particle pollution to help track the American West’s rapidly worsening wildfire smoke. The detailed results show millions of Americans are routinely exposed to pollution at levels rarely seen just a decade ago.

September 22, 2022

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