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Eos: Earth and Space Science News by Graham W. Lederer And Erin A. Mccul.. - 12h ago

The United States relies on mineral resources of all kinds: iron and aluminum for automotive parts, rare earth elements for consumer electronic devices, and titanium pigments for paints and coatings, to name only a few. The United States can produce enough of some of these mineral commodities to meet domestic demand, but for others it relies on imports from around the world. Political instability and competition from other nations could disrupt the flow of imported minerals, leaving U.S. markets to deal with shortages and high prices. Thus, it is necessary to keep track of what is imported and how much and from whom.

On 20 December 2017, the White House issued Executive Order 13817, entitled “A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals,” citing the reliance of the United States on imports for certain mineral commodities vital to economic and national security interests. The order states that increased domestic exploration, production, recycling, and processing will reduce reliance on imports. And import reliance is one of many factors that determine the risks communities would face if foreign supplies were disrupted [Fortier et al., 2015].

In 2017, the United States relied on imports for more than half its supply of 50 mineral commodities.The U.S. Geological Survey’s National Minerals Information Center compiles and publishes production, consumption, and net import reliance data for more than 90 nonfuel minerals and materials. By combining production, trade, and consumption data into a single statistic for each commodity, net import reliance provides a method to evaluate the status of the U.S. mineral supply.

Here the key components that determine net import reliance are described to better illustrate the role of the domestic mineral industry, natural resources, and international trade relations. Although other factors, such as geographic production concentration and the availability of alternatives, are important, reducing net import reliance is one way to mitigate supply risk.

Fig. 1. Data for 2017 for apparent consumption, trade, and supply status of mineral commodities for which the United States is at least 50% import reliant. (a) Net imports, primary production, and secondary production are shown as a percentage of domestic consumption. (b) Imports and exports are shown as a percentage of total U.S. trade. (c) The status of U.S. supply is shown as a series of boxes. Solid boxes indicate that a mineral commodity is produced or recycled domestically and whether domestic reserves and resources exist. Open boxes indicate that data are withheld (W), not available (NA), or not applicable (N/A). Note that iron oxide pigments (natural and synthetic) are combined because statistics are not reported separately. Credit: U.S. Geological Survey [2018]. Click image for larger version.Of the more than 90 individual mineral commodities analyzed in 2017, the United States relied on imports for more than half its supply of 50 mineral commodities [U.S. Geological Survey, 2018]. Mineral commodities for which the United States was greater than 50% import reliant are shown in Figure 1. Mineral commodities for which the United was less than 50% import reliant (e.g., lead or copper) or a net exporter (e.g., molybdenum) are not shown.

What Is Net Import Reliance?

Net import reliance measures the dependence of the United States on imports to meet domestic consumption. This figure is the difference between imports and exports of mineral commodities, adjusting for changes in industry and government stocks.

“Stock adjustments” refer to changes in the amount of material held in inventories. Decreases in stocks contribute to net imports, whereas stock increases reduce net imports. Negative net imports indicate that the United States was a net exporter. For all other mineral commodities, net imports contribute to the total quantity consumed by the United States. This total quantity, referred to as “apparent consumption,” is the sum of primary production, secondary production, and net imports.

Primary production refers to material mined, refined, or manufactured domestically, whereas secondary production refers to material recovered from recycling of scrap. Net import reliance (NIR) is the percentage of domestic apparent consumption that comes from net imports.

Although the general form of the NIR equation is used consistently across mineral commodities, data on domestic production, industry stocks, or rates of recycling may not be available for each individual commodity. The relationships among the variables used to calculate NIR are shown in Figure 2, which showcases how the apparent consumption of refined zinc is dominated by imports.

Fig. 2. A waterfall diagram illustrates the relationship between the components of U.S. apparent consumption of refined zinc, including primary and secondary production, stock adjustments, imports, and exports. Consumption and Trade

Three sources meet domestic demand for mineral commodities:

primary production secondary production net imports

The United States depends entirely on imports for 21 mineral commodities. For 19 of these commodities, including cesium, rubidium, and tantalum, no domestic production takes place (NIR is 100%). Minimal quantities of fluorspar and sheet mica are produced domestically as by-products of limestone and feldspar mining, respectively.

For mineral commodities with less than 100% import reliance, primary and secondary productions satisfy the remaining portion of apparent consumption. In some cases, primary production data are withheld to avoid disclosing proprietary information; in these cases, approximate NIR values are used.

Imports and exports include raw materials, such as ores and concentrates; metals; chemicals; and certain semimanufactured products. Materials embedded in finished consumer products are not considered in traditional net import reliance statistics. Exports of mineral commodities with no domestic production represent imported material that underwent a transformation process in the United States. For example, although gallium is not produced domestically, low-grade primary gallium imports are refined into high-purity gallium at a facility in Utah, some of which is then exported in the form of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), integrated circuits, and other products.

U.S. Supply Status

The domestic components of supply consist of primary production and recycling. Primary production refers to the mining of ore from reserves, the economic subset of identified resources. In Figure 1, a primary production box indicates that a mineral commodity is produced domestically, even if production data are withheld or excluded from apparent consumption.

A recycling box indicates that a mineral commodity is currently recycled in the United States. Quantitative estimates of the contribution of recycling to apparent consumption are not available for several mineral commodities. For example, gallium arsenide semiconductors are recycled as new scrap (distinct from postconsumer scrap) but are not included as secondary production of gallium or arsenic.

Resources are defined as naturally occurring concentrations of material in Earth’s crust where economic extraction is currently or potentially feasible. Although resources of many mineral commodities occur in the United States, resources of some mineral commodities are insignificant or currently considered subeconomic (e.g., domestic identified resources of manganese, tantalum, and tin).

Reserves represent the portion of identified resources that could be economically extracted or produced at the time of determination. Reserves are dynamic and dependent on continued exploration or changing economic conditions such as commodity prices and extraction costs. Reserves and resource terminology are not applicable to manufactured products such as silicon carbide, aluminum, and aluminum oxide.

By examining the components of apparent consumption, trade, and supply alongside net import reliance, a few general trends become apparent. Reserves, production, recycling, exports, and by-product recovery each contribute to the overall import reliance picture.

Domestic Reserves

In general, the United States does not lack mineral resources, but not all resources will become reserves and not all reserves will lead to production.A common misconception is that the United States must import mineral commodities because no domestic resources exist. In general, the United States does not lack mineral resources. For example, it has resources of 43 mineral commodities with high NIR.

Reserves, on the other hand, are related to domestic production. Of the 26 mineral commodities with reserves estimates, 19 are produced domestically. Seven mineral commodities with domestic reserves lack domestic primary production: asbestos, chromium, graphite, rare earths, scandium, vanadium, and yttrium.

Domestic reserves data are not available for 12 mineral commodities: arsenic, barite, bismuth, cesium, gallium, germanium, indium, nepheline syenite, rubidium, thallium, thorium, and tungsten. Reserves estimates are not typically conducted for by-products and minor constituents of a mineral deposit. Of the 12 mineral commodities for which reserves data are not available, eight are by-products that are not recovered domestically.

The United States lacks domestic reserves of five commodities: manganese, niobium, strontium, tantalum, and tin. Reclassifying resources as reserves requires considerable investment and effort to conduct exploration and economic feasibility analysis. Therefore, not all resources will become reserves, and not all reserves will lead to production. Reserves that may result in production include graphite projects under development in Alaska and Alabama and a niobium project under development in Nebraska.

Domestic Production

In general, mineral commodities with domestic reserves are also produced domestically. Several factors determine whether mineral commodities are produced, including market conditions, comparative advantage among countries, environmental and social issues, and other economic forces.

For example, although domestic reserves exist, asbestos has not been mined since 2002. U.S. demand decreased as a result of health and liability issues, and 100% of asbestos apparent consumption is met through imports. Under different market conditions or regulatory policies, the United States could resume mining asbestos or other mineral commodities because reserves are available. Similarly, an increase in rare earth prices in 2011 led to the classification of reserves in California, but the subsequent fall in prices hindered domestic production. For any commodity, individual deposits are subject to similar market forces.

Several by-product mineral commodities have neither primary production nor reserve estimates. In polymetallic ore deposits, mining operations target a specific mineral commodity, but the potential by-products are not recovered. For example, germanium, gallium, and indium are, in some cases, unrecovered constituents of zinc ore produced in the United States. Similarly, lead ores contain bismuth, but lead ores are no longer processed in the United States. In other cases, the primary mineral commodity is not mined domestically, and therefore, there is no by-product recovery. For example, cesium and rubidium are produced as by-products of lithium minerals in pegmatites mined globally, but U.S. lithium production is from brine operations.

Increasing production of any mineral commodity is limited by economic factors and accessibility. For most mineral commodities, extraction costs for deposits in the United States in comparison with other countries are a factor in determining whether they are mined domestically. The overall financial attractiveness of a potential venture depends on all of the costs and risks (e.g., regulatory or political uncertainty) associated with the project.

For by-product mineral commodities, extraction and recovery costs control the economic viability of production. For example, sheet mica is produced as a by-product of feldspar mining in North Carolina but in such limited quantity compared with imports that NIR is essentially 100%. Despite limited production, the United States may be less susceptible to potential supply disruptions for mineral commodities with existing domestic mines and processing facilities compared to commodities without domestic production. Furthermore, as demand for a by-product commodity increases, companies may be willing to increase by-product production with little additional cost if recovery capability exists at domestic plants.

Domestic Recycling

Domestic recycling increases domestic supply and decreases demand for imported primary materials.Domestic recycling has a twofold effect on net import reliance: It increases domestic supply and decreases demand for imported primary materials. Secondary production contributes to the domestic supply of 12 mineral commodities (aluminum, antimony, bismuth, chromium, cobalt, diamond, nickel, platinum, silver, tin, tungsten, and zinc).

Postconsumer scrap represents a significant unconventional “resource” for certain mineral commodities. For example, the United States does not mine chromium, but recycling of stainless steel scrap reduces net import reliance for chromium to 69%. Similarly, antimony, bismuth, cobalt, and tin all lack domestic primary production, but secondary production reduces their NIR values.

Several other mineral commodities are known to be recycled, but secondary production statistics may be limited or not available because of how material is reprocessed. Although some materials degrade during recycling, increased efficiency in the collection and processing of recyclable materials would further reduce NIR and allow the United States to recover waste and scrap that would otherwise be exported.

Role of Exports

Exports of mineral commodities occupy an important role in the U.S. economy, even when the United States is a net importer. Of the 50 mineral commodities analyzed, only 10 lack exports.

Exports contribute to the U.S. economy because imported raw materials and intermediate product forms may undergo transformative processing or manufacturing in the United States that adds value to their products. For example, the United States imports bauxite (an aluminum ore) and produces aluminum metal. NIR for bauxite exceeds 75%, but NIR for aluminum is 61%.

Lack of By-Product Recovery

Many mineral commodities with greater than 50% NIR are produced exclusively as by-products, and their production is contingent upon the production of other mineral commodities. Exploration efforts often do not focus on by-product minerals for a number of reasons. By-product minerals occur in very low concentrations, have limited impact on the economic feasibility of a project, and are traded in small quantities on opaque markets.

Therefore, reserve estimates for by-products are limited and incomplete because producers do not routinely report information for by-product minerals, particularly if there are no plans to recover them. Comprehensive geologic exploration programs encompassing broad geographic areas and detailed mineralogical investigation would help identify domestic resources, reserves, and potential mining opportunities for by-product and minor metals.

Producers may be aware of potential by-products but choose not to recover them.In other cases, producers may be aware of potential by-products but choose not to recover them. This could be due to a lack of economic viability or processing infrastructure or because of the mineral composition of the ore. For example, zinc concentrates mined in Alaska and Washington contain germanium, but these concentrates are exported to Canada for processing and germanium recovery. Other by-products that could potentially be recovered from domestically mined ores include arsenic, bismuth, gallium, indium, rhenium, and vanadium.

NIR could be reduced for many commodities, such as tellurium in copper ore, if unrecovered constituents were separated from gangue (economically worthless material associated with an ore deposit) and produced as by-products, instead of being lost as waste. Research on mineral processing technologies and marginal costs of recovery may improve the economic viability of by-product commodities.

Assessing and Reducing Risk

Net import reliance is a conceptual tool that can be applied to any mineral commodity. Increased geologic exploration, economic assessment, production, processing, by-product recovery, and recycling can contribute to reducing NIR.

The significance of NIR as an indicator of supply risk depends on a variety of factors, including the utility, substitutability, production cost, market size, and price for each particular mineral commodity. Comprehensive assessments are needed to fully understand the supply risk of individual commodities.

Reducing net import reliance may reduce supply risk; however, evaluation of supply risk should consider several factors in conjunction with NIR, such as trade relations with import source countries, changes in material demand, the availability of substitutes, and the importance of a mineral commodity to the U.S. economy. For example, the risks associated with relying on imports for rare earths may outweigh the costs of developing a secure domestic supply, whereas for other commodities, such as asbestos, continued import reliance is likely.

Thus, ensuring that the United States has adequate mineral supplies to meet its needs involves many interacting factors, such as the dynamic balance between imports and exports and the economics of developing domestic resources. However, a metric like NIR can help untangle some economic complexities and pinpoint how to best mitigate risks from supply disruptions to the mineral resources needed for modern society.

The post Meeting the Mineral Needs of the United States appeared first on Eos.

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Jupiter’s tally of moons just got a little bit larger. A team of astronomers announced today the discovery of 10 additional moons orbiting the largest planet in our solar system, raising Jupiter’s moon total to 79.

The same survey that discovered these 10 also resurveyed two other moons previously discovered by the researchers, who verified the moons’ orbital paths. Of the 12 newly surveyed moons, 11 have orbits that fall neatly in line with previously discovered satellites. Two of those are part of Jupiter’s group of inner prograde moons, meaning that they orbit in the same direction as the planet rotates. Nine others orbit with Jupiter’s outer retrograde moons in the opposite direction.

The twelfth moon “is a real oddball and has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon.”The twelfth moon, however, is rather peculiar.

“Our other discovery is a real oddball and has an orbit like no other known Jovian moon,” said Scott Sheppard, lead scientist on the project and a staff scientist at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism in Washington, D. C.

This twelfth moon has a wide, 1.5-Earth-year orbit around Jupiter and travels among the retrograde moons. What makes it odd, however, is its maverick orbit: it is the only prograde Jovian satellite discovered to date to orbit at the same distances as the retrograde moons. The moon, tentatively named Valetudo, also has a more inclined orbit than other prograde moons and is one of the smallest moons of Jupiter discovered to date, measuring less than 1 kilometer in diameter.

The team first observed the new moons in 2017 with the 4-meter Blanco telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. They then used telescopes in Chile, Arizona, and Hawaii to confirm the existence of the moons and their orbits around Jupiter, a process that required many follow-up observations over the past year.

The 12 newly surveyed moons of Jupiter include two inner prograde orbits (blue), nine outer retrograde orbits (red), and one odd outer prograde (green). The orbits of the new moons are marked with thicker curves. Credit: Roberto Molar-Candanosa, courtesy of Carnegie Institution for Science Serendipitous Observations and Treacherous Orbits

The astronomers were not intentionally searching for new Jovian moons when they began observing. They had set their sights on the outer solar system and were looking for more evidence of the elusive Planet Nine, a predicted but as yet unobserved large outer solar system planet.

“We were serendipitously able to look for new moons around Jupiter while at the same time looking for planets at the fringes of our solar system.”“Jupiter just happened to be in the sky near the search fields where we were looking for extremely distant solar system objects,” Sheppard explained. “We were serendipitously able to look for new moons around Jupiter while at the same time looking for planets at the fringes of our solar system.”

The 2 new regular prograde moons join 15 other previously discovered prograde satellites that typically orbit Jupiter in about an Earth year or less. These moons include the famous Galileans: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. They also include a cluster of moons beyond Callisto, shown in blue in the image above. The 7 new retrograde moons join 45 other satellites that take 2–3 years to orbit. The orbits of 9 other small Jovian moons are yet unknown.

Astronomers suspect that the retrograde moons may be the remains of larger moons that were destroyed in head-on collisions with prograde objects. Valetudo might be a shattered remnant of one such prograde collider.

Because the new moons are a few kilometers in size, the team thinks that the impacts that created the satellites likely took place after the era of planet formation ended. If the collisions had happened earlier, the moons would likely have interacted with dust and gas leftover from forming Jupiter and been dragged into the planet.

Also, if the moons had formed earlier, there likely would have been more crashes, the team explained. “This is an unstable situation,” said Sheppard. “Head-on collisions would quickly break apart and grind the objects down to dust.” Given the moons’ stable orbits and kilometer-scale sizes, the collisions were likely chance events later in the solar system’s history.

Studying these objects in depth will help astronomers learn about the evolution of the early solar system and the complex Jupiter system. That’s why it helps to find objects that don’t quite blend in, the researchers note—the “oddballs” are what end up painting the fullest picture.

—Kimberly M. S. Cartier (@AstroKimCartier), Staff Writer

The post Ten New Moons Discovered Around Jupiter appeared first on Eos.

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Nearly 35% of Greenland’s glaciers flow into the ocean, where they discharge large volumes of meltwater below sea level. This sediment-laden water then wells up along the glaciers’ calving fronts, creating buoyant plumes that deliver vital nutrients that help sustain Greenland’s highly productive coastal ecosystems. The processes that supply these nutrients to the surface waters, however, have not been rigorously quantified.

To clarify the effects of subglacial plumes on nutrient transport in Greenland fjords, Kanna et al. organized a July 2016 field campaign around Bowdoin Glacier, a tidewater glacier in northwestern Greenland. In addition to taking physical oceanographic measurements, the team conducted a suite of biogeochemical analyses on water samples collected from atop the glacier, from a buoyant plume in front of the glacier, and from multiple locations within the surrounding, 20-kilometer-long fjord.

The results indicate the plume’s composition differed substantially from the other water samples. In addition to hosting large amounts of suspended sediment, the plume water also contained several times the concentration of important nutrients, including nitrate, silicate, and phosphate, and was more saline than the other samples. These data provide strong evidence that the upwelling plume water is a mixture of subglacial meltwater and deep fjord water entrained in the glacier’s discharge.

After reaching the surface of the fjord, the plume water formed a nutrient-rich subsurface layer on whose boundary the team observed phytoplankton blooms. Because this productivity was strongly associated with the upwelling of nitrate within the plume, these data indicate that subglacial discharge plays an important role in transporting nutrients from deep in the fjord to its surface.

As one of the first studies to pair physical characteristics with comprehensive biogeochemical analyses, this research offers strong evidence that glacial meltwater plumes support phytoplankton blooms through upwelling, rather than by the direct import of nutrients. As the volume of meltwater exiting the Greenland Ice Sheet increases, studies like this one will be crucial for furthering our understanding of the effects of this change on coastal marine ecosystems. (Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, https://doi.org/10.1029/2017JG004248, 2018)

—Terri Cook, Freelance Writer

The post Glacial Meltwater Plumes Support Greenland Phytoplankton Blooms appeared first on Eos.

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Every 2 years, American Geophysical Union (AGU) members elect the people who will lead the organization for the next 4 or more years. These volunteer leaders commit to advancing the mission, vision, goals, and core values outlined in AGU’s strategic plan and to upholding AGU’s ethics policy. Elected AGU leaders play an essential role in decisions on how to serve and engage members in AGU.

Leaders elected this year begin their service on 1 January 2019, serving during AGU’s Centennial celebration in 2019. The Centennial offers an opportunity to amplify the accomplishments and stories of the last 100 years to build support for the next 100 years of discoveries and solution, as well as creating greater awareness and appreciation of Earth and space science among policy makers, media, current and prospective funders, and the public.

All regular and student members who join AGU or renew their AGU membership by 1 August 2018 will be eligible to vote in this year’s election.

When Do the Polls Open?

The 2018 AGU election will be held from 27 August through 25 September, allowing members 30 days to vote.The 2018 AGU election will be held from 27 August through 25 September, allowing members 30 days to vote. Please mark your calendar and plan now to cast your votes for these critical leadership positions. This is a great opportunity for you to make your voice heard.

How Many Ballots Will I Receive?

There are three types of ballots for the 2018 AGU election: candidates for the AGU Board of Directors, student and early-career candidates for the AGU Council, and candidates for section president-elect and secretary positions. AGU has a paired-slate philosophy, so two candidates are required for each open position.

All members will receive ballots for the Board (6 positions, 12 candidates) and student and early-career positions (4 positions, 8 candidates). Members will also receive a ballot for every section to which they belong.

How Long Does Voting Take?

Submitting your votes is faster and easier than ever with our new online voting site. Get a head start on the election before the polls open by familiarizing yourself with the ballots now and reviewing the candidate information. Once you receive your log-in email from Survey and Ballot Systems (SBS) at the end of August (check your inbox for noreply@directvote.net), just click the link, select a ballot for the AGU-wide offices or for one of your sections, mark the candidates of your choice, and hit the Submit button. This process will take just a few minutes per ballot, especially if you’ve already read the candidate information before logging in. You will also be given an option to review the candidate information from the voting site. It’s important to know that you can exercise your vote for just one ballot or for all the ballots you receive.

What Is the Easiest Way for Members to Participate?

This year’s election features 114 candidates for 57 open positions.This year’s election features 114 candidates for 57 open positions. That sounds like a lot, but you have the option to vote for only the positions that matter most to you. Here are some tips for navigating the ballots and casting votes.

Identify the positions for which are you are eligible to vote, including the AGU Board, student and early-career positions on the Council, and the officers of the sections to which you belong. Read about the candidates for those positions online, and decide which candidates you prefer. Watch for the email with your log-in information from AGU’s election vendor, SBS, starting 27 August. The log-in email will come from AGU Election Coordinator, noreply@directvote.net, and will contain a personalized link for you to vote. Once you are logged in, you will be presented with a menu of all the ballots you are eligible to receive. If you have any questions, you can contact SBS from the voting site or the AGU Member Center. Cast your votes. You can vote in one log-in session or in multiple sessions. The online voting site will allow you to submit votes one ballot at a time until the election closes on 25 September. Who Is Eligible to Vote?

Please log in to http://www.agu.org to ensure that your membership and section affiliations are up to date.All regular and student members who join AGU or renew their AGU membership by 1 August 2018 will be eligible to vote in this year’s election. Please log in to http://www.agu.org to ensure that your membership and section affiliations are up to date.

What Information Is Provided About Candidates?

Each candidate has provided a photo and brief biographical sketch, including a summary of relevant volunteer experience and a short CV. In addition, candidates were asked to reply to a specific question about AGU so that voters could gain perspective on the candidates’ views of organizational challenges and opportunities.

The ballot also includes information on continuing volunteer leaders so that voters have a complete picture of the diversity represented in the Board, in the Council, and in section leadership.

How Were the Candidates on the Ballot Selected?

The Leadership Development/Governance Committee, which I chaired, selected the candidates for the Board and student and early-career candidates on the basis of recommendations from current and past volunteer leaders and AGU staff. Criteria for selection of Board candidates included demonstrated leadership skills and experience in dealing with challenges AGU faces now and will face in the near future. The committee was also committed to ensuring a diversity of perspectives in the composition of the overall Board and interviewed potential candidates before making its final selections for the ballot.

Each section is responsible for selecting its candidates. Sections determine their own selection criteria and processes for choosing candidates, with assistance from the Leadership Development/Governance Committee as requested.

Members at large are also given the opportunity via a petition process to nominate additional candidates. No nominations were received.

In keeping with AGU’s commitment to advancing scientific ethics, committee members agreed to implement AGU’s revised Scientific Integrity and Professional Ethics policy in the nomination and selection process for the 2018 AGU Election. All candidates on the ballot have read AGU’s conflict of interest and ethics policies and submitted disclosure forms.

When Will the Election Results Be Announced?

We anticipate that all candidates will be contacted and the results publicly announced in mid-October.As soon as the election closes, the Leadership Development/Governance Committee will initiate a process to verify the results and notify all candidates. We anticipate that all candidates will be contacted and the results publicly announced in mid-October.

How Can I Participate? Log in to AGU.org and ensure that your 2018 membership and section affiliations are current before 1 August. Watch your email on 27 August for instructions from AGU’s election vendor, SBS, or go to elections.agu.org and click the button to receive a personalized link to the ballot. Identify the ballots you are eligible to receive and take a few minutes now to familiarize yourself with the candidates. Vote and let your voice be heard!

—Margaret Leinen (email: pastpresident@agu.org), Past President and Chair, Leadership Development/Governance Committee, AGU

The post Every Vote Counts: Final Slate for 2018 AGU Elections appeared first on Eos.

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Who knew there is so much drama underwater?

Every day, Sherman’s Lagoon, the popular comic strip, dishes up the goofy exploits of a happy-go-lucky shark, his wife, and their neighbors who live in a fictitious and mostly friendly tropical lagoon.

They take on such seemingly weighty matters as silly sea-oriented business ideas, dating in the depths, computer hassles, and fulfilling bucket lists and grocery lists. And as they go about their lives, their antics display their all-too-human foibles.

But the comic strip often ventures into deeper waters. It mixes in real and important information about the ocean and about the serious environmental issues that the characters sometimes encounter.

Just in the last few months, for instance, Sherman’s Lagoon story lines not only have revolved around schemes such as establishing a new underwater record for toppling dominoes but also have drawn attention to the recent World Oceans Day and the March for the Ocean. And in the past it has focused on marine debris, climate change, bottom trawling, overfishing, coral reefs under pressure, and other threats to the ocean and its creatures.

A panel of Sherman’s Lagoon that published on World Oceans Day, 8 June 2018. Credit: © Jim Toomey

Sherman’s Lagoon “is about trying to find that human connection while also sneaking a conservation message in or an ocean fact,” cartoonist and strip creator Jim Toomey told Eos.

Entertainment and a Little Bit More

Sherman’s Lagoon, which appears in more than 250 newspapers in North America, stars Sherman, the shark; Megan, who tries to keep her husband Sherman on a tight leash; Hawthorne, a party-pooping hermit crab; Filmore, a studious sea turtle; and Ernest, a nerdy fish driven to nefariousness.

“Fundamentally, I try to entertain. If I don’t do that, then I get fired,” Toomey mused. “So it’s entertainment, it’s storytelling, it’s hopefully evoking a little bit of a laugh or a giggle or amusement. And then if I can accomplish all that, I oftentimes will try to weave in something a little bit more.”

Two strips, from (top) 1 November 2017 and (bottom) 7 November 2017 on bottom trawling, one of the many important ocean issues that Toomey has focused on in Sherman’s Lagoon. © Jim Toomey

Toomey said that he tries to weave in those larger messages in a way that keeps the comic strip fun and apolitical. “Environmentalism has become a kind of partisan issue, and it’s really important to keep [the strip] away from the politics,” he said.

“Oftentimes, I’ll address an environmental issue, and people will email me and tell me to stop the liberal claptrap. My response is that it shouldn’t really be a red or a blue issue.”However, he noted that a few decades ago there was far less partisanship on environmental issues. “Oftentimes, I’ll address an environmental issue, and people will email me and tell me to stop the liberal claptrap. My response is that it shouldn’t really be a red or a blue issue. It should be about our kids and about our Earth. So I try not to take sides in the politics too much, at least not overtly. And that way, I can preserve a bigger audience, I think.”

Toomey said that if he had a few minutes with President Donald Trump, he would tell the president that “whether you’re a hunter or religious, there is a lot of hidden environmentalism on the conservative side that you should pay attention to.”

Sherman’s Lagoon comic strip from 27 November 2009, highlighting the issue of marine debris. Credit: © Jim Toomey The Birth of the Comic Strip

The idea for the comic strip first took root when Toomey was about 12 years old. On a trip to the Caribbean, his father, a former U.S. Navy pilot, flew the family’s six-seat Cessna 210 aircraft about ~150 meters above the sea’s clear waters. The ocean appeared as more than “the big gray veneer” that Toomey had been used to seeing from a beach. Instead, during that flight he noticed the underwater landscape with its hills and valleys and realized that the ocean world “is just as rich” as the world on land.

“I saw a shark in a small lagoon, and for me that was the birth of Sherman’s Lagoon,” Toomey said. “I was wondering what it would be like to get into the head of that shark.”“I saw a shark in a small lagoon, and for me that was the birth of Sherman’s Lagoon,” he said. “I was wondering what it would be like to get into the head of that shark.”

Toomey recalled thinking “how cool it would be to be that shark in that lagoon and have that whole lagoon to yourself and be the master of this place.”

It took him about 15 years to turn that initial inspiration into a comic strip. Toomey, who worked as a political cartoonist until he tired of the negativity and cynicism, remembers getting a book about sea life and thinking that “these characters are right out of central casting. Hollywood could not dream up a stranger cast of characters.”

Sherman’s Lagoon comic strip from 12 November 2009, referring to efforts to conduct a census of marine life. Credit: © Jim Toomey More Than a Creator of Comics

In addition to his comic strip and his many Sherman’s Lagoon books, Toomey has also done a number of humorous and educational short videos with the Pew Charitable Trusts, United Nations Environment Programme, and others. Here’s one, below, on ocean acidification:

He’s also given a TED talk about his work:

Toomey earned a master’s degree in environmental management in 2008 to help him better understand ocean issues “and how to wrap entertainment sweetness around a bitter pill of the environmental message.” Twice, he has received environmental hero awards from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 2014, Toomey was the artist in residence on the DSV Alvin, a U.S. Navy deep-ocean submersible vehicle operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Court Jester Sherman’s Lagoon creator Jim Toomey, flanked by Sherman the shark (left) and Filmore the sea turtle (right). Credit: © Jim Toomey

The comic strip “is a little bit like a sitcom” because the story arc has to take you back to where you were at the beginning, he said. “Everybody has to be the same, in the same place, the same status, unlike, say, a novel or a movie where there is a radical upheaval and things are very different in the end.”

He maps out some of the story arc in advance, but not all of it. “You don’t plan it all out in the beginning. You just kind of go with the flow. It’s like improvising a bedtime story to a child,” said Toomey.

Is he trying to make a difference with the comic strip by incorporating environmental issues? “Sometimes I am, and sometimes I’m just trying to entertain,” he said. “I feel like there are other people who are actually doing the real work, and I’m kind of the court jester. I feel like the more I can tell the public, the better world we’ll have. But I don’t think everybody’s waiting for me to do that.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

The post Dive into Ocean Issues with <em>Sherman’s Lagoon</em> appeared first on Eos.

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In August 2012, the Mars Science Laboratory’s rover Curiosity landed at the base of Gale crater, a 5-kilometer-high mountain that formed when a meteor hit Mars billions of years ago. Using its 2-meter-long arm to drill into the planet’s surface, Curiosity scooped up and analyzed rock and soil samples, including some light-colored, crystal-studded rocks surprisingly similar to the ancient granitic rock that forms much of Earth’s continental crust.

The discovery made waves in the science community because it suggested that Mars might be the only known planet besides Earth possibly to have a continental crust. Mars traditionally is thought to be covered in denser, darker igneous rock similar to Earth’s oceanic crust, which is formed as volcanic magma sourced from Earth’s mantle cools.

Now, however, research by Udry et al. contradicts that hypothesis. Instead of seeping up between tectonic plates, the team argues, the rocks could have formed through a process similar to one on Earth: intraplate, or “hot spot,” volcanism, found in places like Hawaii, Iceland, and the Canary Islands. In hot spot volcanism, magma does not need to find the boundaries or cracks between tectonic plates to rise to the surface. Instead, it merely pushes up and breaks through weaker, thinner areas of crust.

To make their case, the researchers used a computational tool called MELTS, which can simulate the conditions required for magma to form different igneous rocks. They started with six different potential types of magma based on data from the ancient “Black Beauty” meteorite—a chunk of polished Martian rock found in the Moroccan desert in 2011—and five rocks from the Spirit rover mission nicknamed Fastball, Backstay, Esperanza, Home Plate_June Emerson, and Champagne.

They modeled how the magmas would have crystallized as they cooled, starting with the lowest temperature at which the rocks would be liquid and decreasing by 10°C intervals until they reached 600°C (or a higher temperature if the rocks had already solidified). The team found that conditions similar to those in hot spot volcanism readily transformed the magma into rocks with chemical and mineralogical compositions similar to those found in Gale crater: pale, light minerals containing lots of silica, similar to the granitic rocks that form Earth’s continental crust. The study suggests that no continental plates were needed to form the tantalizingly Earthlike rocks—just garden-variety Martian volcanoes, produced by intraplate magmatism. (Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, https://doi.org/10.1029/2018JE005602, 2018)

—Emily Underwood, Freelance Writer

The post Is Mars Not So Earthlike After All? appeared first on Eos.

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In a new collaboration, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) and the American Astronomical Society (AAS) will apply their distinct areas of expertise to a shared realm of scientific interest: exoplanets. Their cooperative effort, supported by a grant from The Kavli Foundation, will help integrate the work of the two scientific communities through a joint steering committee, special sessions at both societies’ annual meetings, and topical conferences and workshops.

More than 3,000 exoplanets have been identified in more than 2,000 planetary systems beyond our own.More than 3,000 exoplanets have been identified in more than 2,000 planetary systems beyond our own. Their sizes, compositions, and dynamics are surprisingly diverse. Several dozen systems have multiple planets in the “habitable zone” where liquid water may exist on their surfaces. Exoplanet observations have been a primary focus of the international astronomical community, and the growing amount of data on exoplanetary systems is providing important inputs to our understanding of the formation and evolution of our own solar system.

Fast-Paced Research Field

“We are excited to join with our AAS colleagues to accelerate the exploration of this rapidly evolving field of space science. Thanks to this generous grant from The Kavli Foundation, this unique cooperative effort of our two scientific societies will help bring together and strengthen bonds between the best researchers in the science of exoplanet research,” said Chris McEntee, AGU CEO/Executive Director.

“It is remarkable that only two decades after the first exoplanets were discovered, we are probing the physical characteristics, atmospheric chemistry, and rotational and orbital dynamics of thousands of such objects,” said Kevin B. Marvel, AAS Executive Officer. “Only with a coordinated interdisciplinary approach will astronomers, planetary scientists, and geophysicists be able to maintain this blistering pace of discovery, and thanks to The Kavli Foundation, the AGU and AAS will lead the way.”

“We are proud to be able to support this exciting joint effort and look forward to an ever-increasing pace of discovery.”“With AGU and AAS working together, the very best scientists from the geosciences and astrophysics will be able to work together to enable the growth of the increasingly interdisciplinary field of exoplanetary research.  We are proud to be able to support this exciting joint effort and look forward to an ever-increasing pace of discovery,” said Chris Martin, interim vice-president for science at the Los Angeles, Calif.–based Kavli Foundation, which is dedicated to advancing science and public understanding of science.

Grant-Funded Initiatives

The Kavli Foundation grant will help enhance exoplanet science by bringing together the relevant researchers via the following initiatives:

the establishment of a steering committee composed of key leaders and researchers from each organization session presentations at AGU’s 2018 Fall Meeting and AAS’s winter 2019 meeting featuring talks on the state of exoplanet science, the dynamical evolution of our solar system, and our changing understanding of planetary interiors and atmospheres travel support for six to eight invited speakers to attend each of the annual meetings an exoplanet conference and workshop to be convened by AAS in August 2019 in Reykjavik, Iceland, resulting in the publication of integrated special issues and themes in AGU and AAS journals. Follow-up presentations will occur at AGU’s 2019 Fall Meeting and AAS’s winter 2020 meeting a summer 2019 NASA/AGU/AAS Astrobiology Science Conference to help advance interaction between federal science agencies and scientific societies other joint projects as they are identified

This collaborative effort will further catalyze exoplanet science by integrating the expertise of the two societies’ shared communities more closely in the coming years. Furthermore, with the resources provided by The Kavli Foundation, AGU and AAS will leverage the interdisciplinary science that is already occurring within the geophysical and astronomical communities. Together, the two organizations represent and are capable of bringing together the relevant researchers from around the world.

—Joshua Speiser​ (email: jspeiser@agu.org), Manager, Strategic Communications, AGU

The post AGU and AAS Join Forces to Foster Understanding of Exoplanets appeared first on Eos.

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Eos: Earth and Space Science News by Jeremy Fyke, Olga Sergienko, Marcus.. - 6d ago

Ice sheets are massive glaciers formed by snow that has continuously accumulated and compacted for many thousands of years. Ice sheets can grow to be several kilometers thick and can cover large parts or entire continents, such as the Laurentide ice sheet that existed during the last glacial period, or the present day Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. Their fate – inception, evolution, and disappearance – is governed by the physics of glacier ice flow and by complex interactions with the other components of the Earth system, including the atmosphere, ocean, lithosphere, sea ice, and biosphere. Such interactions play an important role in ultimately determining levels of ice sheet-sourced sea level rise.

Motivated by the urgent need to better understand the contributions to future sea level rise from the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, a recent article in Reviews of Geophysics explores the interactions between ice sheets and other Earth system components, and the feedback loops caused by these interactions. Here, the authors to give an overview of scientific research in this area.

How do ice sheets interact with other components of the Earth system?

Ice sheets gain mass through snowfall and lose mass by atmosphere-regulated surface melting around ice sheet edges, ocean-regulated melting under floating ice shelves, iceberg calving, and in some cases ice sublimation. Changes in atmosphere and ocean conditions over and around ice sheets can therefore impact mass changes and related sea level trends. For example, the higher the snowfall rate, the faster the mass gain, and the higher the atmospheric or ocean temperatures, the faster the ice melt and mass loss.

In turn, ice sheets exert a strong control back on the surrounding Earth system, for example by altering atmospheric circulation through topographic effects, and ocean circulation by providing fresh water fluxes from melting and icebergs. Because ice sheets are so large, they even make the Earth crust subside under their weight, and can alter the planetary gravitational field. As a result of these processes, any climate change-induced ice sheet mass change results in a subsequent climate change signal, in a coupled feedback loop.

Summary of the family of interactions (I) and feedback loops (F) between ice sheets and other components of the Earth system: atmosphere (a), ocean (o), sea ice (si), and the solid earth (g). Credit: Fyke et al., 2018, Figure 3; image created by Catherine Raphael, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory

What are ice-sheet/Earth system feedback loops?

Interactions between ice sheets and other Earth system components lead to amplification (positive feedbacks) or damping (negative feedbacks) of ice sheet mass and sea level changes.

An example of feedback loop. Credit: “Climate Change: Evidence, Impacts, and Choices”, National Research Council, 2011, Figure 9; graphic concept by Madeline Ostrander as published in Yes! Magazine

An example of a positive feedback loop is the ice sheet height/surface mass balance feedback loop.

Over time, as ice sheet loss from surface melting around the ice sheet edges increases (for example, from greenhouse gas-driven warming), ice sheet elevation lowers down.

This in turn drives further melting – over and above the original melt signal – as the ice sheet surface drops in elevation and experiences warmer conditions due to background atmospheric temperature gradients.

This and other processes together trigger ice-sheet / Earth system feedbacks that combine to influence ice sheet mass response to climate forcing in complex and poorly quantified ways. There is also the potential for the existence of as-yet-undiscovered feedback loops that may play critical roles in past and future ice sheet-driven sea level shifts.

How can we investigate interactions and feedbacks between ice sheets and the Earth system?

Because ice-sheet/Earth system interactions and feedbacks include more than one Earth system component and can also regulate each other in complex ways, their investigations represent substantial challenges. The two major approaches to study them are observations and modelling.

Weather observations, such as here at the foot of Mount Erebus on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica, are one type of observational data that can improve understanding of ice-atmosphere interactions and be used to strengthen models. Credit: Tsy1980 (CC BY 4.0)

Synchronized multidisciplinary observations that simultaneously monitor several Earth system components can significantly improve our understanding of interactions and feedbacks.

Such observations can also guide development and validation of numerical models that aim to improve understanding of the physical processes governing ice-sheet/Earth system interactions and feedbacks.

These models range from process-oriented – for instance, focused on sub-ice-shelf melting – to comprehensive Earth System Models that attempt to encompass all ice-sheet/Earth system interactions in a unified model setting.

How can Earth System Models help to improve our understanding?

Earth System Models reflect our current understanding of how various components of the Earth system interact with each other and co-evolve in response to external forcing (such as increases in greenhouse gas concentrations). They therefore represent powerful tools for exploring Earth system behavior and projecting future change.

Explicit representation of ice sheets in Earth System Models allows for exploration and quantification of already known feedbacks in the ice-sheet Earth system and discovering new ones. It also allows for self-consistent projections of sea level change arising from ice sheet mass changes. This benefit is motivating efforts to include ice sheets into Earth System Models so that they may be applied to highly societally relevant projections of sea level rise in response to anthropogenic forcing.

—Jeremy Fyke, Los Alamos National Laboratory; Olga Sergienko, Princeton University; email: osergien@princeton.edu; Marcus Löfverström, National Center for Atmospheric Research; Stephen Price, Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Jan Lenaerts, University of Colorado

The post Icy Interactions appeared first on Eos.

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“He was bigger than life.” “His legacy will not soon be forgotten.” “He left a lasting mark on all he touched.” These sentiments, which are often spoken about a recently deceased individual, can seem like clichés.

But for A. F. “Fred” Spilhaus Jr., executive director emeritus of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), who died on 30 April just 3 weeks shy of his 80th birthday, they are far from just words.

Those who were fortunate enough to know and work with Fred may speak of his vibrant personality, his strong work ethic, his generosity with ideas, his seemingly unflagging energy, or his attraction to good food and wine. And Fred embodied all of that.

Fred held an unwavering passion for AGU and was deeply dedicated to its members.However, those committed to the advancement of science know that there are fathoms more. Fred held an unwavering passion for AGU and was deeply dedicated to its members.

When asked, shortly before his retirement, what he felt was most important among his contributions to AGU, Fred noted, “the openness of AGU and the ability for anyone involved in the Earth and space sciences to join and stay a member. Of equal importance to me is the fact that AGU always puts the integrity and quality of science first.”

A Commitment to Communication and to Keeping Dues Affordable

Fred held three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including a Ph.D. in physical oceanography. After a short stint as an analyst for the CIA, he was hired in the summer of 1967 by AGU to be assistant executive director.

One of his early assignments was to make the stodgy quarterly Transactions, American Geophysical Union into a monthly magazine, which he did with the January 1969 issue, adding Eos to its title. Ten years later, Eos became a weekly tabloid newspaper. Fred served as editor in chief of Eos for 40 years.

Early in Fred’s tenure as AGU’s executive director (1970−2009), he attended a conference for society managers where a speaker talked about the importance of reducing the financial threshold for membership so that more could join. The principle was to have a low entry fee and then charge for the products and services members used. Fred was so struck by the concept that for more than 3 decades—until his retirement—he was able to convince the Council (today’s Board of Directors) to keep dues at $20 for members and to reduce and maintain dues for students at $7. Fred had a strong numeric base for keeping the dues low: The dues must always cover the incremental costs of serving an average member; they always did.

Fostering an International Organization A picture of Fred Spilhaus sailing off Cape Cod. Credit: Spilhaus family

When Fred joined the staff of AGU, he became an employee of the National Academy of Sciences. AGU had been founded within the academy as the U.S. national committee for the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics. Only U.S. residents could be full voting members of AGU because each member was also a member of the “committee”; others were classified as associates and could not vote or hold office.

When AGU was “invited” to leave the academy and it became a separately incorporated nonprofit organization in 1972, Fred thought it would be good to get rid of the two-tiered approach to participation. Although the Bylaws Committee put forward a document that eliminated all geographic distinctions, before adopting the proposed bylaws, the Council reinserted U.S. residency as a condition of holding the office of president.

Five years later, when Canadian J. Tuzo Wilson was nominated as a candidate for AGU’s president-elect, no one checked the bylaws. Tuzo won the election. So that he could serve, a special election to change the bylaws was held, and the last vestige of AGU’s being a U.S. society was removed by vote of the membership.

The Importance of Giving Back

AGU had strong publications and meetings programs, but Fred said there needed to be a third leg to the stool, one from which AGU could give back to the broader community. This became the education, public affairs, and public information programs.

With the help of thoughtful members, a public policy effort took shape. Fred had seen such activities become divisive in other organizations when politics rather than policy took over. Thus, AGU’s public affairs program became firmly rooted in providing solid scientific information that could be used by decision-makers in legislative and regulatory entities rather than a program that lobbied for particular legislation. The first public policy statement adopted by AGU, issued in 1981, dealt with the importance of underlying scientific principles when Earth science was being taught at the precollege level.

Fred saw a worldwide network of such societies serving the advancement of science at the local, national, and international levels.Having clear guidelines for how policy statements would be prepared was critical to maintaining AGU’s position as a learned society. The guidelines ensured that members had the means to provide input to the policy statements before they were finalized.

Fred was also a great believer in the importance of having strong national and regional scientific societies. He saw a worldwide network of such societies serving the advancement of science at the local, national, and international levels.

Although he wanted AGU to be welcoming to all Earth and space scientists and students anywhere in the world, he did not want the size and success of AGU to keep other societies from developing. He gave unstintingly of his advice to the leaders of other organizations and helped to lend AGU’s resources for the good of others. As new societies got started, it was common to hear their leaders explain their programs with “you know, it’s like AGU’s” Chapman Conferences or Macelwane Medal.

A Strong Leader

Fred’s mantra was “There is no end to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” He had an uncanny gift for listening to what members were saying, especially in committee meetings, and was quick to figure out how to shape those thoughts into a policy, an action, or even a new direction for AGU. Fred brought the mindset of a scientist to analyzing problems and developing solutions.

A snapshot of Fred Spilhaus after he won the Waldo E. Smith Medal in 2010. Credit: Alik Ismail-Zadeh

He loved being in the midst of the action, but he didn’t seek to be the center of attention. He had no need for personal aggrandizement. Those who experienced his infectious laugh or shared in his joy in a good story, especially a self-deprecating one, may be unaware that Fred relished solitude, where he could recharge his batteries.

He was a man of strong opinions; this meant that Fred didn’t always see eye to eye with everyone in the various walks of his professional life. Fred appreciated that others held passionate views that differed from his. He enjoyed intellectual sparring and having well-founded, civil arguments. He never took arguments personally and never held a grudge.

Fred had the greatest respect for his predecessor, Waldo Smith, and frequently said that he was glad to have had a 3-year apprenticeship under Waldo’s tutelage. When Fred was nearing retirement and the AGU officers insisted that he have his likeness painted, Fred refused to have it hung until a portrait of Waldo was painted and hung first. Fred’s last official act as executive director was to host a small reception of members in the Washington, D. C., area to unveil Waldo’s portrait.

In 2010, Fred was delighted to receive the AGU tribute that had been named for his mentor: the Waldo E. Smith Medal. It is perhaps fitting that Fred was one of the last to receive the medal before it was designated as an award.

A Lasting Legacy

AGU would not be as strong today if Fred Spilhaus had not answered the call and made AGU his life’s mission.Many of us who saw the energy and passion Fred devoted to supporting the volunteer leaders, especially during difficult financial times, know that AGU would not be as strong today if Fred Spilhaus had not answered the call and made AGU his life’s mission. Today’s members and leaders can count themselves fortunate that Fred had broad shoulders on which they could stand.

Fred Spilhaus—scientist, executive, mentor, man of courage, bon vivant, colleague, friend—turned his zeal for defending the integrity of science and for advancing our understanding of Earth and space into a career that enriched individuals and organizations around the world. Although his legacy will remain, the man who built it will be sorely missed.

—Judy C. Holoviak (email: jholoviak@gmail.com), former deputy executive director, AGU

The post A. F. “Fred” Spilhaus Jr. (1938–2018) appeared first on Eos.

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Andrew Wheeler, the newly appointed acting administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), turned on a charm offensive as he tried to turn a new page at the agency on Wednesday following the resignation of scandal-plagued Scott Pruitt last Friday.

Wheeler’s introductory speech to an overflow audience of EPA staff and the press at EPA headquarters in Washington, D. C., outlined his priorities and promised more openness and dialog at the agency. EPA spokesman John Konkus added in a statement that Wheeler “puts a premium on transparency” and that Wheeler will bring a change in approach and tone at the agency.

However, some critics charge that Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, is reading from the same page as Pruitt in his desire to weaken environmental regulations in the name of regulatory reform. Those critics also note that Wheeler will more effectively achieve those goals since he may not be burdened by scandals.

Wheeler claimed that the agency has “made tremendous progress” over the past year and a half under Pruitt.In his speech, Wheeler claimed that the agency has “made tremendous progress” over the past year and a half under Pruitt by accelerating the remediation of Superfund pollution sites, financing critical investments to improve the nation’s water infrastructure, enhancing air quality, and improving how chemicals are reviewed for safety, among other accomplishments.

“We will continue to press forward on all of these fronts,” he added. “We’re also restoring the rule of law, reining in federal regulatory overreach, and refocusing EPA on its core responsibilities. As a result, the economy is booming and economic optimism is surging.”

Focus on Three Things

“[Trump] said, ‘Clean up the air, clean up the water, and provide regulatory relief.’ I think we can do all three of those things at the same time.”When President Trump called on Wheeler last week to lead the agency, Trump said that Wheeler’s focus should be on three key areas, the new EPA leader explained in his speech. “[Trump] said, ‘Clean up the air, clean up the water, and provide regulatory relief.’ I think we can do all three of those things at the same time.”

Wheeler said that the agency needs to provide more regulatory “certainty” to businesses. With that need in mind, Wheeler said that he is setting a new goal for the agency to decide all permitting requests, whether for or against, on a 6-month time frame.

He also called for quicker decisions on enforcement actions. “I’m not advocating for letting people off the hook or reducing fines. Rather, I’m advocating for making enforcement decisions in a timely and consistent manner. Accomplishing this will dramatically improve our relationship with American businesses and take away a lot of the criticisms that [are] lobbed at the agency.”

In his speech, Wheeler also referred to the problems facing the agency in the wake of Pruitt’s departure. “I understand firsthand the stress that goes along with a change in management,” he told EPA staff. “I will try to minimize the stress that you all deal with on a daily basis as employees here at the agency.”

Not Ashamed of His Work for a Coal Company

Wheeler also confronted head-on the criticism that he has received for working as a lobbyist for Murray Energy, a coal company. Wheeler said it was just one among more than 20 clients he worked with through his work at the Faegre Baker Daniels consulting firm.

“I did work for a coal company, and I’m not at all ashamed of the work I did for the coal company,” said Wheeler, who began his career in 1991 as a special assistant in EPA’s pollution prevention and toxics office. After working on Capitol Hill and as a lobbyist, the Senate confirmed Wheeler as EPA deputy administrator on 12 April 2018. Trump appointed Wheeler as acting EPA administrator beginning on 9 July following the departure of Pruitt, who worked to roll back dozens of environmental regulations and was enmeshed in a number of scandals, including charges of misusing taxpayer money.

For the last 4 or 5 years that Wheeler worked for the coal company, the number one issue they asked him to focus on was bipartisan legislation to shore up health care and pensions for miners, Wheeler said.

“My grandfather was a coal miner during the depression. My grandmother raised her children in the coal camps in West Virginia,” he said. “The work that I did on behalf of the company to try to help the retirees of the United Mine Workers is the reason why [they] endorsed my confirmation when I was nominated [as EPA deputy administrator] last year.”

Hopes and Concerns About Wheeler

The replacement of Pruitt with Wheeler was “like a giant air conditioner being turned on and sweeping out the old air” at the agency, said one EPA staffer who heard Wheeler’s speech and spoke to Eos on the condition of anonymity because of the staffer’s concern of not being authorized to speak with the press. “I hope that [Wheeler] is a moral person and that he cares more for the health of 300 million people than for a company.”

“Ultimately, the real test for Mr. Wheeler will be his actions on the many critical issues before the EPA, such as his predecessor’s efforts to restrict science use at the agency.”Ilana Solomon, director of federal campaigns for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Eos that Wheeler’s speech “struck a more conciliatory tone with EPA staff than Scott Pruitt ever did, but let’s not forget: Pruitt’s mistakes reached far beyond his scandals. As the EPA’s leader, Pruitt constantly undermined the agency’s mission, obscured his actions from the press and taxpayers, and cut out the voices he didn’t want to hear—including experts at his own agency. If Wheeler truly wants to defend the good work at the EPA, he needs to fix that problem first and foremost.

“Ultimately, the real test for Mr. Wheeler will be his actions on the many critical issues before the EPA, such as his predecessor’s efforts to restrict science use at the agency. This administration has demonstrated time and time again that talk is cheap. When it comes to Andrew Wheeler, his actions as the EPA’s acting administrator will speak louder than today’s words.”

Wheeler “will continue to champion deregulation and permit big polluters to evade compliance altogether,” charged Denise Morrison, acting president of the American Federation of Government Employees’ Council 238, which represents more than 8,000 EPA workers.

“Plain and simple, this ‘regulatory certainty’ is the new unregulated capitalism.”“Plain and simple, this ‘regulatory certainty’ is the new unregulated capitalism,” she said. “Quietly, Wheeler has replaced EPA’s mandate to defend public health with political appointees who apply arbitrary science to protect industry, and put the kybosh on laws preventing air pollution, water contamination and toxic lands remediation. AFGE Council #238 doesn’t expect anything to change in this EPA, whose toothless enforcement represents a bar that is now too low to even trip over.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

The post New EPA Head Says His Priorities Include Regulatory Relief appeared first on Eos.

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