Partner Spotlight

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The Big Sky Institute at Montana State University is an interdisciplinary center dedicated to creating, applying, and communicating science-based knowledge. The BSI Ecological Informatics Lab brings together natural sciences, geographic information systems (GIS), statistics, modeling, information technology, and computational programming with a comprehensive goal of making ecological data more useful to society. BSI partners with several NBII Nodes to disseminate information and to create value-added tools for interacting with data.

Department of the Interior New Energy Frontier

Wind turbines [Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior]
Wind turbines
[Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior]

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) New Energy Frontier is focused on responsible and environmentally sound energy development in the United States. The Department of the Interior manages one-fifth of the nation's landmass, and many of the agencies within the DOI recognize the need for renewable energy production, including the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), and the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR).

Source: U.S. Department of the Interior

Renewable Energy Project

Renewable energy sources are derived from natural resources that are able to be replenished at or near the rate that they are harnessed and consumed. They have many ecological advantages, often providing "clean" energy alternatives to conventional forms of energy or fossil fuels that may help reduce the effects of climate change. Renewable energy is an exciting and dynamic area of research and development in the U.S.

Follow the links below to find out more about renewable energy sources, siting, ecological impacts, maps, data, news, and information.

solarAbout the Project
Find out more about the NBII Renewable Energy Project.
BIOSLive Maps and Data
Discover renewable energy interactive maps and data, including the BIOS Renewable Energy Viewer and the Wind Energy Data and Information Gateway.
PollinatorsRenewable Energy and the Environment
Find out the impacts of renewable energy on bird conservation, climate change, fisheries and aquatic resources, genetic diversity, habitat impacts, invasive species, and pollinators.
BiofuelsRenewable Energy by Region
Explore renewable energy potential in the U.S. and find useful resources for assessing this potential.
NewsRenewable Energy News
Browse timely news articles about renewable energy topics and research.
Wind EnergyRenewable Energy Sources
Learn about biofuels, geothermal energy, hydropower, solar energy, and wind energy.

Comparing the Carbon Balance of Renewable Energy Sources

[Image: NASA]
[Image: NASA]

Although renewable energy sources are replenishable and produce few or no emissions, the indirect environmental impacts associated with these technologies must be considered in order to assess the actual "carbon footprint" of renewable energy use.

For example, when soil is disturbed, it releases some of its carbon content into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas. Researchers have found that there is a lower soil carbon content in plots of corn than in other perennial grasses such as Miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) (Source: ScienceDaily). Growing perennial grasses instead of corn has a positive effect on soil carbon, thereby reducing the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. These positive effects can be weighed against the negative effect of pollution produced during the burning of fossil fuels by machines that plant, tend to, and harvest these biofuel crops.

Similarly, the amount of fossil fuels emitted through the transport and construction of renewable energy infrastructure must be taken into account. The amount of net carbon released or taken up in the production of renewable energy can be calculated as is its overall carbon balance and can be used as a relative comparison among different types of renewable and nonrenewable energy.

What are Greenhouse Gases?

The Greenhouse Effect [Image: NOAA Paleoclimatology]
The Greenhouse Effect
[Image: NOAA Paleoclimatology]

Gases in the Earth's atmosphere that trap heat are referred to as "greenhouse gases". Some of these greenhouse gases occur naturally in the atmosphere but are augmented by inputs from human activities. Others are unnatural compounds that are only created and emitted into the atmosphere from human activities. The principal greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere from human activities are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and fluorinated gases. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inventories greenhouse gas emissions and sinks and provides information about greenhouse gases and climate change.

Clean vs. Renewable Energy

Wind turbines [Photo: NREL Image Library]
Wind turbines
[Photo: NREL Image Library]

"Clean energy" refers to natural processes whose energy can be harnessed and converted to a useful form with little or minimal pollution. "Renewable energy" refers to a natural energy source that is able to be replenished at or near the rate that it is harnessed and consumed. These terms are sometimes incorrectly used interchangeably. Different renewable energy technologies can emit different types and amounts of pollution, and therefore some of these technologies are "cleaner" than others, having fewer environmental impacts.

Renewable energy technologies such as solar, geothermal, wind, biofuel, and hydropower, all have some associated ecological costs involving the manufacture, transport, and installation of the materials accounting for the physical infrastructure used to harness and convert the energy. The indirect environmental footprint associated with renewable energy technologies is usually considered to be outweighed by the relatively minimal environmental impact of the energy production technique when compared with the environmental benefits of a nonrenewable, fossil fuel-based energy source.

Species Spotlight

American pika. [Photo: NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory]
American pika
[Photo: NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory]

American pika
Ochotona princeps

Description: The American pika is a small rodent that has a round body, large, round ears, and is between six and eight inches long. Generally weighing about six ounces, the pika is diurnal, meaning it is active during the day.

Life History: Mating first occurs before the snow starts to melt. Females give birth to 2 to 4 offspring, which are weaned in 3 to 4 weeks. After about one month, the offspring leave the mother and grow to adult size after an additional two months. The females may mate again, and may have more than one litter. Pikas eat a variety of plants, including grasses, thistles, sedges, and flowers. The pika is active all year, and stockpiles dried vegetation deep down between rocks for the winter.

Habitat: Live in between rocks on high elevation boulder and talus slopes, and are very sensitive to high temperatures.

Distribution: The habitat range of the pika extends from British Columbia and Alberta in Canada, down through the Rocky Mountains to New Mexico. They are also found in the Sierra Nevada Range.

Status: There is concern that some pika populations may be adversely affected by warming temperatures due to global climate change, which decreases the amount of suitable high elevation habitat. However, the pika is not listed as endangered or threatened as of February, 2010. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife report indicates that some pika populations may be able to adapt to higher temperatures.

Resources: NatureWorks
NOAA Earth Systems Research Laboratory
Big Sky Institute, Montana State University
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
World Wildlife Fund

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