Oil and Gas Boom May Permanently Harm Ecosystems

Oil and gas drilling is causing long-lasting damage to ecosystems, and it's outpacing recovery efforts.

Oil and gas drilling in North America is turning the Central Plains into an industrial landscape and causing long-lasting damage to ecosystems, reports a study in the April 24 issue of Science.

Three Yellowstone National Parks worth of land have been filled with well pads, road and storage facilities, from 2000 to 2012.

Satellite data was used to measure the amount of carbon stored by plants, which the authors write is an effective means to gauge the health of ecosystems: "It is a fundamental and supporting ecosystem service that is the basis for all life on Earth" affecting the ability to grow food, biodiversity and wildlife habitat.

"Nearly half of wells drilled in this time period occurred in already highly or extremely water-stressed regions," the study reports. "As refracturing becomes more common to yield greater production, oil and gas development adds to an already fraught competition among agriculture, aquatic ecosystems, and municipalities for water resources, in addition to concerns of water quality"

The impact of the transformation of the Great Plains is hard to detect when viewing a single region, that authors write, but the degradation has lasting impacts for the continent.

The effect is possibly permanent, because recovery of drilled land hasn't kept up with the pace of drilling.

An aerial shows landscape impacts of oil and gas development.

This week: A special Earth Day planet pics looks at the world's largest desert, a massive iceberg on the move and a deep ocean dive where you can ride along. Pictured: California’s volcanic Mount Shasta appears nearly naked on its southern, eastern, and western slopes. Usually, California's mountains build up winter snow packs that turn them into natural water towers when the warmer weather comes. But since 2014, nature has been slow to replenish the snow, as the state has suffered through a brutal drought.

Earth Day, Plan B: Five Bold Geoengineering Plans

March 2015 was the hottest March since record-keeping began back in 1880, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The first three months of the year were also the hottest quarter.

NEWS: 2015 Hottest Year To Date, Could Top 2014 Record

Here's an image of the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, as seen from Alaska.

What Is The Aurora Borealis?

Lakes on the Mongolian Plateau have been shrinking rapidly in recent years, as a result of increased mining and farming activity in the region.

NEWS: Stolen 'Nest Of Dinosaurs' Returned To Mongolia

Iceberg B-15, which broke away from Antarctica's Ross Ice Shelf in 2000, originally had a surface area of 4,250 square miles, the largest on record. Five years later, large fragments of the iceberg are still adrift.

NEWS: Underwater Drones Map Algae Beneath Antarctic Ice

Last year, 41.8 million tons of e-waste -- mostly fridges, washing machines and other domestic appliances at the end of their life -- were dumped around the world. Less than one-sixth of all e-waste was properly recycled, reports the United Nations University, the UN's educational and research branch.

Mountain of Electrical Waste Reaches New Peak

A robotic submarine deployed by the NOAA research ship

Okeanos Explorer

will stream HD video online of some unknown territory in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The remotely-operated vehicle -- or ROV -- will continuously capture high-definition video, which the public will be able to view on

this website.

Spectacular Undersea Photos From NOAA's Okeanos Explorer

This satellite image shows filaments of phytoplankton twisting and curling in the Arabian Sea. Due to low oxygen levels in the water in recent years, a new species has taken over which is altering the aquatic food chain.

NEWS: Huge North Sea Plankton Bloom Seen From Space

Above, a uranium mine in Arlit, Niger. French nuclear power generation as well as the French nuclear weapons program are dependent on the uranium that is extracted from the mine -- more than 3,400 tons per year.


Daily Overview

, satellite imagery courtesy of Digital Globe

Rub' al Khali or The Empty Quarter is the largest sand desert in the world, covering 650,000 square kilometers in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, and the UAE.


Daily Overview

, satellite imagery courtesy of Digital Globe

The Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park. The brilliant color combinations were caused by visitors contaminating the hot spring with coins and trash, according to multiple studies.


Daily Overview

, satellite imagery courtesy of Digital Globe

BLOG: Yellowstone Thermal Pools Colored by Pollution