Environment

Russian Methane Leaks

Satellite data have detected massive plumes of methane gas leaking from Russia’s Yamal pipeline, which carries natural gas from Siberia to Europe. The Paris-based Kayrros energy consultancy said one leak was gushing 93 metric tons of methane each hour, with the same greenhouse gas effect as the exhaust of 15,000 cars in the United States during a full year.

Radiation Mystery

Russia has denied it is responsible for a cloud of radioactive particles detected at monitoring stations across northern Europe. Officials in Finland, Norway and Sweden say that one of the isotopes, Iodine 131, does not occur in nature and is created by nuclear fission. Cobalt, ruthenium and cesium were also detected in Finland. hile the amount of the radiation is considered tiny and not dangerous, its presence has led some experts to believe it may be from the testing of Russia’s new cruise missiles, which are said to be propelled by onboard nuclear power plants.

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Environment

Plastic Reaches Antarctica

Scientists have found for the first time evidence that plastic has entered the food chain in the Antarctic. Researchers write in the journal Biology Letters that bits of polystyrene were discovered in the guts of tiny organisms known as springtails, living in the soil not covered by ice on King George Island, off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Extensive scientific research, along with an airport, military facilities and visiting tourists, make it what the researchers call one of the most contaminated regions of the Antarctic. The authors of the report said they believe the springtails inadvertently consumed the plastic fragments while grazing on their usual food.

Environment

Siberia’s record-breaking heat wave

The extreme record-breaking heat that has baked Siberia for several months should serve as an “incredibly loud alarm bell” of the need to adapt to climate change, say researchers.

Thawing permafrost leading to the Norilsk oil spill – one of the worst in Russia’s history – “zombie fires” resurrected from blazes last year and dramatic levels of snowmelt are among the consequences.

The temperatures, while mostly still cold by the standards of someone living in London or New York, have been unprecedented.

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Environment

Heat Record North of Arctic Circle

A small town in Siberia reached a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday, which, if verified, would mark the hottest temperature ever recorded north of the Arctic Circle.

Temperatures have jumped in recent months to levels rarely seen in the Russian region, and it’s a sign of a broader trend of human-caused climate change that’s transforming weather patterns in the Arctic Circle.

The town of Verkhoyansk is one of the coldest towns on Earth — temperatures dropped to nearly 60 degrees below zero there this past November — and the average June high temperature is 68 degrees.

The 100.4 reading in Verkhoyansk, which sits farther north than Fairbanks, Alaska, would be the northernmost 100-degree reading ever observed.

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Environment

Mini Forests

A patchwork of small but dense forests is emerging across Europe thanks to a Japanese botanist who has also planted tiny forests in Japan and Malaysia.

Akira Miyawaki’s projects use saplings of native varieties, adapted to local conditions, to cover sites as small as a tennis court and in patches of roadside.

The method typically uses 30 or more species at a time and is said to grow forests 10 times faster, 30 times denser and 100 times more biodiverse than those planted in conventional ways.

Besides the ability to capture carbon from the atmosphere to combat global warming, the mini forests provide better food and shelter for a diversity of creatures, such as insects, snails and amphibians.

Environment

Locust Feed

Farmers in Pakistan’s Okara district are earning money by trapping some of this year’s hordes of invading locusts so the insects can be turned into high-protein chicken feed in local mills.

The scheme works because locusts cluster on vegetation and on the ground from dusk until dawn. This is when the farmers have been able to haul in about 7 tons of them nightly, earning each farmer up to $125 per night. But the practice is only allowed in areas that have not been sprayed with pesticides to control the swarms.

Environment

Siberian Forests under Attack

Swarms of the Siberian silk moth, whose larvae eat away at conifer trees in the region’s forests, have grown rapidly amid the rising temperatures. The moths are usually inactive during winter and eat in spring, summer and autumn periods which are now lengthening.

“In all my long career as a specialist, I’ve never seen moths so huge and growing so quickly,” said Vladimir Soldatov, a moth expert, who warns of “tragic consequences” for forests. The larvae, which are taking over larger areas of forest, strip trees of their needles and make them more susceptible to forest fires.

The moth “has moved 150 kilometres north compared to its usual territory and that’s because of global warming,” Soldatov told AFP. In the Krasnoyarsk region of eastern Siberia, more than 120,000 trees have had to be treated to kill the larvae, according to the regional forest protection centre.

Another insect pest, the bark beetle that bores into tree trunks, has also recently colonised the region. It has flourished since 2003 as the climate became milder.

With snow melting earlier in the year in northern Siberia, exposed dry vegetation and soil means fires can spread easily, said Alexei Yaroshenko, who heads the forest section at Greenpeace Russia.

Environment

Northwest Passage

This week in China, a Russian tanker ship will deliver a cargo of natural gas after taking the Arctic route across the top of the world and completing its voyage at the earliest time of year ever.

This voyage is a test case for a Russian energy company that wants to ship natural gas to China throughout the summer months. Taking the Arctic route lops off more than 10 days from the traditional trip across the Mediterranean Sea, through the Suez Canal and around India. The ice in the Acrtic is less than the meter thick at the moment, which is quite thin and makes it possible for the tanker to pass through.

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Environment

Sweltering Siberia

Temperatures soared 10 degrees Celsius (°C) above average last month in Siberia, home to much of Earth’s permafrost, as the world experienced its warmest May on record, the European Union’s climate monitoring network said Friday.

Environment

Arctic Oil Spill

A major oil spill in northern Siberia has prompted Vladimir Putin to declare a state of emergency in an environmentally fragile Arctic region after publically chastising local authorities for their bungled response.

The spill came as a tank lost pressure and collapsed last Friday in Norilsk in north-central Russia, leaking some 20,000 tons of what officials called “oil products” into the nearby Ambarnaya River – an accident that can likely be chalked up to melting permafrost due to climate change.

Norilsk spill

Hydrogen – Clean Power

Governments from Europe to Japan have scaled up efforts during the pandemic to develop hydrogen as a clean alternative to fossil fuels, with some using their economic stimulus programs to fund the research.

While hydrogen has long been touted as the way to rid the world of a large portion of its carbon emissions, it has proven to be very difficult and expensive to generate with renewable energy sources, such as sunlight.

But scientists at Japan’s Shinshu University say they have successfully split water into hydrogen and oxygen using light and newly developed catalysts that achieve almost 100% efficiency with no undesired side reactions.

They say their findings open the door to scalable and economically viable solar hydrogen production.

Environment

Earth’s Cleanest Place

A team of researchers from Colorado State University say they have found an area of the world were the atmosphere is pristine and free of pollution.

In the air just above the surface of the Southern Ocean south of 40 degrees south latitude, they found no evidence of particles, or aerosols, produced by human activities and transported around the planet in weather patterns.

What microbes they did find were determined through DNA analysis to have been tossed up by the seething ocean, meaning that pollution and soil particles caused by land use far away were not traveling south into the air around Antarctica.

Environment

Trees are Getting Shorter and Younger

The world’s collective forests have become shorter and younger overall in the past 50 years, according to a study published in the journal Science on Friday. This means that forests have less capacity to remove carbon from the atmosphere and are less hospitable to the many species that rely on them for shelter.

The team of researchers reviewed more than 160 previous studies, analysed satellite imagery, and created models to examine how forests changed between 1900 and 2015. They found that over that 115-year period, the world has lost 14 per cent of its forests to tree harvesting alone. That includes 30 per cent of old growth forests, which are home to trees more than 140 years old and are generally tall and biodiverse.

In different places, this loss is happening at different rates and for different reasons. While wildfires are driving forest loss in Australia and Mongolia. California has seen massive wildfires and beetle infestations. And logging in the Amazon rainforest is increasing. There are some rare exceptions. Tree mortality in parts of the Pacific Northwest, for instance, is decreasing.

But though the changes vary regionally, the impact will be felt globally. Eighty per cent of Earth’s terrestrial land-based plant and animal species live in forests. Old growth forests tend to be highly biodiverse and are home to more endangered species. They also store massive amounts of carbon dioxide.

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Environment

Magnetic Mystery

Scientists are struggling to understand new weakening of Earth’s magnetic field in a region that stretches from South America to Africa and is causing technical disturbances in some of the satellites orbiting the planet.

“The new eastern minimum of the South Atlantic Anomaly has appeared over the last decade and in recent years is developing vigorously,” said Jürgen Matzka, from the German Research Center for Geosciences.

The anomaly is allowing the inner Van Allen radiation belt to dip down to an altitude of about 120 miles, sometimes exposing satellites to several minutes of higher-than-usual radiation.

Astronauts have reported disturbances in their eyesight, known as cosmic ray visual phenomena, when passing through the anomaly.

Environment

More Locusts

Fresh swarms of desert locusts are ravaging crops from East Africa to India, threatening food shortages at the same time as the coronavirus pandemic.

Heavy rains from last year’s unprecedented tropical cyclones in the Arabian Sea created excellent conditions for the pests to breed and spread.

The ravenous insects have arrived in Pakistan and parts of India just before the monsoon season will allow farmers to plant rice, cane, corn and cotton. Experts say these summer crops will quickly be devoured if the worst infestations in decades are not eradicated soon.

Environment

Pollen Clouds

Vast sheets of pollen have blown across parts of the European landscape this spring, triggering allergy problems for those already suffering from the COVID-19 health crisis.

Images on social media and television have shown layers of yellow pollen reducing visibility in Spain, and Switzerland’s Lake Geneva ringed with yellow from the pollen that had fallen on the water and collected along the shoreline.

Strong winds blowing over vast tracts of olive orchards and other crops that stretch across southern Spain carried the pollen for long distances.

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Amazonian Deforestation

Satellite observations by Brazil’s space agency, INPE, confirm that deforestation in the Amazon rainforest rose sharply as the coronavirus crisis deepened in the country during April.

The health emergency has prevented many officials in charge of preventing the practice from being in the field to thwart illegal logging and land clearing. INPE says that losses in Brazil’s portion of the Amazon soared by 64% during the month, with 465 square miles lost.

Despite supporting policies that have encouraged farmers, ranchers and loggers to clear Amazon land to help the economy, President Jair Bolsonaro has authorized the deployment of the armed forces to deter the practices.