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Major environmental stories of February 2014

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The White House announced an initiative to help farmers and ranchers adjust to climate changes that have already altered growing seasons and threatened livestock. Seven "climate hubs" will be operating out of USDA offices, and they will be staffed by climate change experts, who will advise farmers on such matters as drought-resistant crops and changes in pest management. The hubs will be located in Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Oregon. There will also be three smaller "sub hubs" that will handle problems peculiar to specific regions like specialty crops such as wine grapes.

The world's largest solar plant began operations on Feb 13, 2014. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System in California boasts 300,000 computer-controlled mirrors, each seven feet high and ten feet wide and three towers each over 450 feet tall. The facility is expected to produce 392 megawatts of energy a year, which is enough to power 140,000 homes. That amount of clean energy will prevent the use 400,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to getting 72,000 cars off the road.

As of Feb 19, the United Kingdom has had it wettest winter on record with 19.2 inches of rain since Dec 1, according to the Met Office . The records date back to 1910. Wales, east Scotland, and southern England have all had record amounts of rainfall. The UK has also has had a warmer-than-average winter. The rainfall has been accompanied by flooding. The Thames reached its highest level in 60 years, and the resultant floods forced people from their homes. Other rivers, like the Severn, also flooded.

Scientists published a study the journal Nature Climate Change describing a cause of the so-called "speed bump" in climate change. The Earth's global average air temperature has remained fairly steady since 2001, but that's because the world's oceans have been absorbing the heat. As per the study, the Pacific trade winds have been twice as strong over the past 20 years as they were over the previous 80 years. These strong winds have been able to push warmer ocean waters to the depths, thus creating the illusion of a stable temperature. The trade winds have also caused increased upwellings in the central and eastern Pacific, that brings cooler water to the surface. The researchers believe that the trade winds may last at their current strength until the end of this decade. Once they abate, the hiatus will stop

Latin America's biggest solar farm is being built in La Paz, Mexico. Called Aura Solar I, it will be the country's first utility scale photovoltaic plant, capable of powering the homes and businesses of 164,000 people (64% of La Paz's population) The 30 megawatt solar farm will also replace a coal plant that's been causing air pollution for years.

A Nebraska judge struck down a state law that allowed Gov Dave Heineman to approve the route of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Judge Stephanie F. Stacy declared the 2012 law to be in violation of the state constitution. She also permanently blocked Heineman and other defendants from taking any action on that approval, like using eminent domain to acquire land for the pipeline. Stacy ruled that the state legislature could not take the routing power away from the Public Service Commission and give it to Heineman. Consequently, there is now no approved route through Nebraska, which was expected to have 200 miles of pipeline running through it. Heineman and the other defendants immediately appealed the ruling.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that January 2014 was the fourth warmest January since 1880, when recordkeeping began. It is also the 347th straight month with above-average temperatures compared to the 20th century average. January 2014 was the warmest January since 2007. Siberia and the eastern United States were among the few places that were colder than normal. Other areas, like the western U.S., China, Australia, and much of Europe were all warmer than normal.

At a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Stanford researcher Mark Jacobson described ways to convert the entire U.S. to renewable energy. He also described the costs and benefits involved -- including a very surprising one. Large offshore wind farms could offer some protection against hurricanes. Jacobson ran simulations and computer models both with and without turbines-- and found a large number of turbines could reduce both wind speed and storm surge.

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