Thursday, January 23, 2014

Are insect-ravaged hemlocks at a tipping point?

A Japanese insect called the hemlock woolly adelgid has devastated Southern Appalachian hemlock forests, but apparently not to the degree expected, new research shows.

The U.S. Forest Service released a study Wednesday that says the majestic trees might still be growing fast enough in the East to offset the insect's damage.

The adelgid was first spotted in Virginia in the 1950s. By 1980, damage had begun in the hemlock's Appalachian range running from northern Georgia to Canada. Trees were hit hardest in the South, where mild winters don't help limit the insect's spread.

Lead author Talbot Trotter, an ecologist at the service's Northern Research Station in Pennsylvania, says the study might have captured a tipping point between hemlock losses and increases due to forest regrowth. The study used forest data only through 2007.

"Repeating this analysis as new (forest) data becomes available may show if we are beyond a tipping point and are now losing hemlock," he said.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Gas prices to drop, solar to rise, feds say

The Energy Information Administration's new short-term energy outlook forecasts some interesting trends through 2015. Some bullet points from administrator Adam Sieminski:

-- Gasoline prices are expected to trend downward over the next two years, averaging $3.46 per gallon in 2014 and $3.39 per gallon in 2015, as U.S. crude oil production grows and crude prices fall.

-- U.S. crude oil production could set a record in 2015 with the highest output since 1972. Production is projected to rise by 1 million barrels a day this year to 8.5 million barrels, and then rise to 9.3 million barrels per day in 2015. Imports would drop to 24 percent of total liquid fuels consumption, the lowest level since 1970.

-- Onshore natural gas production will continue increasing over the next two years, with the Marcellus Shale of eastern North America offsetting declines in the Gulf of Mexico.

 -- Average household electricity use is expected to decline 1.1 percent this year and another 0.4 percent in 2015 due to improved appliance and lighting efficiency. Dropping household use will be offset by increased demand from industries.

-- U.S. wind power capacity is forecast to increase 8.8 percent this year and 15 percent in 2015. But utility-scale solar capacity is expected to zoom up 40 percent between now and the end of 2015.