Category Archives: Scientific American

A Sooty North Pole Ahead

Where there’s oil, there’s a way. This summer the federal government showed that it is willing to approve drilling operations in U.S. waters off Alaska. In addition to legislation, other barriers to Arctic development are disappearing: summers at the North Pole could be ice-free as soon as 2020, reducing the need for ice-breaking vessels and opening the way for faster and cheaper trading routes. An increase in shipping across the top of the world, however, could have “significant regional impacts by accelerating ice melt,” according to a recent government report by the Canadian Northwest Territories. And that aggravated melting could raise global sea levels. Continue reading


Mexico Is Poised for Energy Boom

Mexico reopened its energy market to outside producers in August for the first time in more than 75 years. Until now, private companies could only serve as contractors to the national hydrocarbon or electricity monopolies.

Mexicans formerly took pride in keeping a major natural resource in national hands. Pemex, the state petroleum monopoly, provided almost a third of federal revenues. Yet Pemex’s production began dropping in the mid-1990s. In 2013, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted (PDF) that by 2025 Mexican oil production would plunge by more than 50 percent from 2010 levels, despite the presence of the equivalent of 450 billion barrels of oil in Mexico, on par with Saudi Arabia’s resources. On August 25, citing the reforms, the EIA predicted a turnaround in the decline over the next few years and a return to growth by 2025. Mexico is now on the verge of an oil and gas boom. Continue reading

Hitting Rock Bottom

Fishing boats have dragged nets across the seafloor in pursuit of bottom-feeding fish and crustaceans since the Middle Ages. In recent decades, motorized fishing fleets, powered by government subsidies, have taken heavier nets deeper and farther offshore. The annual haul from international waters in 2010 was reported to be worth more than $600 million.

To see how bottom trawling is changing the ocean’s bottom, ecologist Antonio Pusceddu of the Marche Polytechnic University in Ancona, Italy, and his team took seafloor sediment samples at trawled and untouched sites off Spain’s northeastern coast between 500 and 2,000 meters below the surface. They then counted the number of individuals and species in those samples and measured the amount of carbon in the sediment. Continue reading