Read more: "2013 Smart Guide: 10 ideas that will shape the year"
For anyone living on planet Earth, 2012 was a rough year. The US sweltered in a devastating drought, only to then bear the brunt of superstorm Sandy. Meanwhile Arctic sea ice shrank to its lowest extent on record, months after evidence emerged that it might have passed the point of no return.
Even as evidence for human-driven climate change continued to mount, the world did little about it. A major UN summit achieved little other than a vague promise to pay developing countries when they suffer harm from the changing climate. Developed countries continued their dash for gas, often using hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" to extract it, and greenhouse gas emissions kept rising. On a bright note, solar panels became the cheapest energy source in parts of the tropics.
Here is our pick of this year's environment stories.
Sandy aftermath: New York City is rotting at the core
Beneath the destruction brought by superstorm Sandy lies a more insidious problem. Our reporter Lisa Grossman visited the city days after the storm struck and discovered that rising sea levels are corroding the very foundations of the Big Apple.
Arctic sea ice low heralds end of 3-million-year cover
It is smaller, patchier and thinner than ever ? the extent of the Arctic ice cap hit a record low in September. The loss of the Arctic sea ice is arguably the greatest environmental change in human history, and its consequences will extend far beyond the North Pole.
Fungus-powered superplants may beat the heat
2012 saw the US suffer the worst drought in over 50 years, and crops withered. Plants that have been genetically modified to need less water could have helped, but they are time-consuming and expensive to create. So researchers turned to symbiotic fungi that could help crops survive extreme conditions.
Geoengineering with iron might work after all
If you want to help stop climate change, try tipping some iron into the sea. For years, this idea has been considered a busted flush, but new results suggest it really can work ? although by itself it won't come close to offsetting our greenhouse gas emissions.
Seismologists found guilty of manslaughter
In a case that shocked the scientific world, six Italian seismologists, and a local civil protection official, were sentenced to six years in prison for manslaughter. They were convicted of falsely reassuring the residents of the Italian town of L'Aquila that a major earthquake was not going to happen. The area was struck by a magnitude-6.3 earthquake in 2009, killing over 300.
Lonesome George dies but his subspecies' genes survive
The rarest animal in the world is no more. Lonesome George, the last of the Pinta Island tortoises, was found dead in June. But a small hope remains for his subspecies, as its genes have survived on one island in the Gal?pagos, and a careful breeding programme could bring the subspecies back to life.
Hidden green benefits of genetically modified crops
Fears about genetically modified crops returned after two studies claimed that they were bad both for our health and the environment. But the evidence was weak at best ? and a special investigation by New Scientist suggested that some GM crops may actually have green credentials.
Europe in 2050: A survivor's guide to climate change
Europe is now in a race against the climate. With little hope of a global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions, big temperature rises are likely before 2100. That means countries have just decades to prepare. From reshaping cities to defending coastlines, we examine how countries need to change to survive.
Geoengineering would turn blue skies whiter
Blue skies would fade to hazy white if, in a bid to offset global warming, geoengineers inject light-scattering aerosols into the upper atmosphere. Critics had long warned that this might happen, and now the effect has been quantified.
Earth cracking up under Indian Ocean
You may not have felt it, but the whole world shuddered on 11 April as Earth's crust began the difficult process of breaking a tectonic plate. When two huge earthquakes ripped through the floor of the Indian Ocean, they triggered large aftershocks on faults the world over, and provided the best evidence yet that the vast Indo-Australian plate is being torn in two.
If you would like to reuse any content from New Scientist, either in print or online, please contact the syndication department first for permission. New Scientist does not own rights to photos, but there are a variety of licensing options available for use of articles and graphics we own the copyright to.
Have your say
Only subscribers may leave comments on this article. Please log in.
Only personal subscribers may leave comments on this article
Subscribe now to comment.
All comments should respect the New Scientist House Rules. If you think a particular comment breaks these rules then please use the "Report" link in that comment to report it to us.
If you are having a technical problem posting a comment, please contact technical support.