Pervasive Plastic

Researchers have found that most whales, turtles and fish may be swimming the world’s oceans with plastic in their bodies.

Writing in the journal Global Change Biology, Marga Rivas at Spain’s University of Almería and her team analyzed data from 112 published studies from the past decade. They conclude that 66% of all sea turtles had macroplastics and microplastics in their systems, while 55% were contaminated with a class called microfibers.

The highest rates of plastic contamination were in the Mediterranean and northeastern Indian Ocean.


‘Rivers’ of Warm Air Melt Antarctic Ice

Strengthening rivers of relatively warm and moist air blowing southward from the middle latitudes are melting huge patches of sea ice around Antarctica, new research reveals.

Diana Francis at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi and her colleagues found that these atmospheric rivers are now making the storms that rage around Antarctica more powerful by fuelling them with more water vapour.

The storms help churn up nutrients for marine life. But when amplified by the atmospheric rivers, they accelerate climate change by breaking up the sea ice and opening up large patches of darker ocean water. These openings, known as polynyas, reflect less solar energy back into space than the white ice, allowing the water to heat up.


Dirty Polluters Live On

Many of the world’s oldest and most-polluting vehicles are not winding up in scrapyards but are instead being “dumped” on the roadways of poor countries where they continue to spew high carbon emissions.

A report by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) says that from 2015 to 2018, about 14 million outdated cars were exported from Europe, Japan and the U.S., with most winding up in Africa, Latin America and Asia. One of the UNEP report authors says about 80% of those vehicles aren’t roadworthy and don’t meet European emission standards.


Fukushima Warming

Plans to dump more than a million tons of contaminated water from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster into the ocean are being highly criticized. Greenpeace warns in a report that the water stored after the 2011 meltdowns at the facility has such high levels of the isotope carbon-14 that it could damage human DNA if released into the Pacific. The move has also been strongly opposed by local fishermen. The Greenpeace report says that carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,370 years and would become “incorporated into all living matter” over time if released into the wild. But Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says the dumping can’t be postponed forever.


USA Dust Bowl Repeat

A new study finds dust levels are rising in the American Great Plains due to farming practices and climate trends that scientists say are reminiscent of the lead-up to the 1930s Dust Bowl period.

The University of Utah research finds that the amount of dust has risen up to 5% per year, which coincides with the expansion of cropland and seasonal crop cycles. Writing in Geophysical Research Letters, the scientists suggest farming practices could now be exposing more soil to wind erosion, albeit much less than when 1920s Midwestern farmers were tilling the topsoil with mechanical plows. This led to the Dust Bowl after severe drought struck.


Fracking Fallout

A new Harvard study finds that there are significantly elevated levels of airborne radioactive particles up to 31 miles downwind of U.S. fracking sites.

Using 16 years of data from 157 federal radiation monitoring stations, researchers found that sites with 100 fracking wells within 12 miles upwind had an average of about 7% more radiation in the air.

The highest contamination was near the Marcellus and Utica shale fields in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where radioactivity was 40% higher than normal.

While conventional oil and gas drilling doesn’t result in much impact on underground rocks that contain uranium isotopes, hydraulic fracturing blasts through shale and other layers containing them. Scientists say the resulting radioactive particles are carried downwind.


Pollution – Europe

Air pollution remains Europe’s top environmental threat to health, with more than 400,000 premature deaths due to air pollution every year in the EU, according to a European Environment Agency report.


Plants in Peril

Almost 40% of Earth’s plant species are now at risk of extinction due to human activities, according to Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Its latest annual report on the state of the world’s plants and fungi says more than twice as many plants are at risk than previously thought. It points to agriculture and aquaculture threatening a third of the plants at risk, while climate change appears to threaten only about 4%. The Kew researchers say some of the plants in danger hold great promise for medicine, fuel and food.


La Niña Emerges

Sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Pacific have cooled to the point in recent weeks that weather agencies have officially recognized the phenomenon as a new La Niña. The opposite of an El Niño, La Niña also develops about every three to five years with its own set of weather disruptions, including the chance of more and stronger tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin.

It also can bring wetter weather to northern Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines, along with drier weather for western South America and cooler-than-normal temperatures for western Africa. NOAA predicts the new La Niña has a 75% chance of persisting into next year.


Plastic Soils

New research finds that microplastic pollution is causing harm to the tiny creatures living in the ground. Writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, scientists say the assault is occurring in soil-dwelling mites, larvae and other creatures that are crucial to the fertility of the land. They play an important role in recycling carbon and nitrogen, and they break down organic material.

Plots contaminated with microplastics saw a reduction of those creatures of between 15% and 62%, the scientists said.


Arctic Polluters

An increasing number of polluting ships are now sailing across the Siberian coastal stretch of the Arctic Ocean because of the more open waters that have resulted from record melting sea ice.

An analysis by Reuters found that traffic through the icy waters’ busiest routes along the coast of Siberia increased 58% between 2016 and 2019. Those ships are carrying iron ore, oil, liquified natural gas and other fuels. Reuters says that the COVID pandemic has not slowed the trend, with 935 voyages being documented in the first half of 2020, compared with 855 in the same period last year.


Overshoot Day

Scientists designated Aug. 22 this year as Earth Overshoot Day, the date when humans have used all of the ecological resources the planet can produce in an entire year. While the date had been getting earlier and earlier as consumption grew, the drop in what has been taking from nature this year during the worldwide pandemic has pushed it back by more than three weeks. Using data compiled by the United Nations, the Global Footprint Network, which determines Earth Overshoot Day, found that humans began consuming more than the Earth can provide without being replenished about the year 1970.


Indian Ocean Oil Pollution

Wildlife experts say it could take decades for the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius to recover from the 1,000 metric tons of oil that spilled into its pristine waters from a grounded and off-course Japanese tanker. The vessel rammed into a reef and begin spilling oil faster than local volunteers and crews, some wading without protective gear, could halt its spread. But it was a losing battle for a country where tourism and fishing drive the economy. Its reefs, endangered animals and plants, mangrove forests and lagoons have already suffered a massive poisonous shock, according to Mauritian environmental scientist Adam Moolna.



Vast, Growing Anomaly in Earth’s Magnetic Field

NASA is actively monitoring a strange anomaly in Earth’s magnetic field: a giant region of lower magnetic intensity in the skies above the planet, stretching out between South America and southwest Africa.

This vast, developing phenomenon, called the South Atlantic Anomaly, has intrigued and concerned scientists for years, and perhaps none more so than NASA researchers. The space agency’s satellites and spacecraft are particularly vulnerable to the weakened magnetic field strength within the anomaly, and the resulting exposure to charged particles from the Sun.

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Weakening Current

The strength of the Florida Current, which marks the beginning of the Gulf Stream, has weakened in force to the lowest level of the past 110 years, according to new research.

The current flows between Florida and Cuba before becoming the Gulf Stream near the Bahamas.

While precise measurements of the current go back to only the early 1980s, scientists say they were able to determine its past strength by how it affected coastal sea levels in the region.

The study confirms earlier findings that show the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation is slowing down due to climate change. That complex of currents wields a key warming influence across the Atlantic to much of northern Europe.