Environment

Desalination Brine

The nearly 16,000 desalination plants around the world that extract fresh water from the sea are discharging far greater amounts of toxic brine back into the ocean than previously thought, a new U.N. study reveals.

It says the salt-laden liquid is increasing the density of salinity where it is released, and poses a significant risk to marine life and ecosystems.

More than half of the 5 billion cubic feet of brine discharged each day worldwide comes from desalination plants operating in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait.

Magnetic North Pole Shift

The erratic and rapid shift of the Magnetic North Pole since 2014 has prompted scientists to update a year earlier than scheduled a model used in crucial navigation systems.

The unprecedented update was requested by the U.S. military due to the mounting level of inaccuracies in guidance across the Arctic for ships, planes and submarines.

Scientists believe the wayward pole is being influenced by changes in the flow of iron in Earth’s outer core.

But some experts believe the planet’s magnetic poles are on the verge of reversing, which is long overdue.

Environment

Garbage Patch Cleanup Setback

A giant U-shaped floating barrier designed to corral debris in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch has been broken apart by the constant wind and waves of the North Pacific winter.

The prototype was towed to the patch between Hawaii and California last September, and early reports said it was moving slower than the plastic, allowing the trash to escape.

“This is an entirely new category of machine that is out there in extremely challenging conditions,” said the device’s 24-year-old inventor, Boyan Slat.

He said his Ocean Cleanup project will tow the broken device to Hawaii for examination, and it may need to be brought back to the project’s headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area for full repairs.

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Environment

Researchers suggest broiler chicken is the hallmark of the Anthropocene

A team of researchers from several institutions in the U.K. and one in South Africa has come to the conclusion that the broiler chicken offers perhaps the most striking evidence of the rise of the Anthropocene. In their paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the group outlines their reasons for choosing the chicken as a signal of human biosphere reconfiguration.

Scientists have begun suggesting that we are now living in a new epoch, which thehy call the Anthropocene—the age of man-made impacts on the planet. In this new effort, the researchers suggest the broiler chicken is a prime example of the changes we have wrought. They note, for example, that the broiler chicken is now by far the most populous bird on the planet—at any given moment, there are approximately 23 billion of them. The second most populous bird, by comparison, is the red-billed quelea, and there are just 1.5 billion of them.

There are so many chickens that their body mass is greater than all other birds combined. And they are not anywhere close to their initial native state—the modern broiler is unable to survive and reproduce in the wild. It has been bred to eat non-stop, allowing it to grow to a desired size in just five to nine weeks. And as it grows, its meaty parts outgrow its organs, making it impossible for many to survive to adulthood. And all these chickens are being cooked and eaten, and their bones are discarded. Billions of bones wind up in landfills where they are covered over in an oxygen-free environment, making it likely that they will, over time, become fossilized. If we do not survive due to global warming, pandemics or nuclear warfare, the researchers suggest, the next dominant life form will likely dig up our landfills and find evidence of our love for the broiler chicken.

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Environment

Tehran Is Sinking

The ground is shifting under Iran’s capital, Tehran, home to approximately 15 million people and the biggest city by population in western Asia. High-resolution satellite images recently revealed that in some places, the metropolis of the Middle East is sinking about 10 inches (25 centimeters) per year.

researchers found Tehran’s current subsidence rate to be among the highest in the world, with groundwater loss driven by drought, dam construction and a booming population. Another troubling discovery was that rainfall wasn’t replenishing depleted groundwater reserves, suggesting it may already be too late for the land to recover.

Tehran isn’t the only sinking city. Satellite observations have also shown that Venice, Italy; parts of western Texas and coastal Louisiana; California’s San Joaquin Valley and San Francisco International Airport are victims of subsidence.

Should the sinking continue, Tehran’s railways, bridges, gas and oil pipelines, and electrical infrastructure could be at risk

Global Warming

The World Needs to Stop Using Coal. Why Is It So Hard?

Coal, the fuel that powered the industrial age, has led the planet to the brink of catastrophic climate change.

Scientists have repeatedly warned of its looming dangers, most recently on Friday, when a major scientific report issued by 13 United States government agencies warned that the damage from climate change could knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end if significant steps aren’t taken to rein in warming.

An October report from the United Nations’ scientific panel on global warming found that avoiding the worst devastation would require a radical transformation of the world economy in just a few years.

Central to that transformation: Getting out of coal, and fast.

And yet, three years after the Paris agreement, when world leaders promised action, coal shows no sign of disappearing. While coal use looks certain to eventually wane worldwide, according to the latest assessment by the International Energy Agency, it is not on track to happen anywhere fast enough to avert the worst effects of climate change. Last year, in fact, global production and consumption increased after two years of decline.

Cheap, plentiful and the most polluting of fossil fuels, coal remains the single largest source of energy to generate electricity worldwide. This, even as renewables like solar and wind power are rapidly becoming more affordable. Soon, coal could make no financial sense for its backers.

So, why is coal so hard to quit?

Because coal is a powerful incumbent. It’s there by the millions of tons under the ground. Powerful companies, backed by powerful governments, often in the form of subsidies, are in a rush to grow their markets before it is too late. Banks still profit from it. Big national electricity grids were designed for it. Coal plants can be a surefire way for politicians to deliver cheap electricity — and retain their own power. In some countries, it has been a glistening source of graft.

Environment

The Earth “Eats” Water

Scientists have discovered that the movement of Earth’s tectonic plates is dragging three times more water into the planet’s interior than thought.

Writing in the journal Nature, Chen Cai of Washington University in St. Louis and his colleagues describe the process of subduction, in which hot ocean-floor plates grind together and pull water deep into the crust and mantle.

By using seismic sensors placed in the Marianas Trench, the team was able to more accurately estimate how much water was being locked up in hydrates and rocks during the process. That stored water is believed to make quakes more likely by lubricating faults.

Global Warming

Half of the Year’s Rain Falls on Earth in Just 12 Days

It takes less than two weeks for half of the planet’s annual precipitation to fall. That is, 50 percent of Earth’s rain, snow and ice each year falls in the 12 wettest days, according to a new study. The deluges are likely to become even more concentrated by the end of the century, researchers reported Oct. 19 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

What the researchers found is that the expected increases happen when it’s already the wettest — the rainiest days get rainier.

Climate scientists have long been concerned that the increase in global average temperatures will cause weather events that are more extreme. Warmer air can hold more moisture, and a different study, published Nov. 14, found that today’s hurricanes are already wetter due to climate change.

Already, most of the water that falls from the sky does so in a mind-bogglingly short period of time. It takes just 12 days to account for half the world’s yearly annual precipitation, the researchers reported.

The scientists found that a whopping 75 percent of the world’s precipitation falls in approximately a month’s time (the wettest 30 days, spread across the year). Twelve and a half percent of annual precipitation falls in just two days. And the wettest single day of the year accounts for 8.3 percent of the year’s total.

Regionally, this tendency for a lot of wetness in only a short period of time is most obvious in dry, desert environments, the researchers found. China and southeastern Russia are right in the middle, and “wet” places like the northeastern United States show the most even distribution of precipitation.

Globally, the wettest day of summer accounts for 5.2 percent of the year’s precipitation, while the wettest day of winter is a little drier, at 3.4 percent of the annual precipitation budget.

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Global Warming

Germany – Drought

In Germany, a hot, dry summer has left water levels at near historic lows, and that problem is rippling across the entire economy. Scientists are blaming the effects of climate change for the extreme weather events causing the drought.

Declining shellfish – East Coast USA

Valuable species of shellfish have become harder to find on the East Coast because of degraded habitats caused by a warming environment, according to a pair of scientists that sought to find out whether environmental factors or overfishing was the source of the decline.

Environment

Pharma Pollution

Australian researchers say more than 60 common prescription drugs are finding their way through wastewater into rivers and streams, contaminating insects that wind up being eaten by other wildlife up the food chains.

The scientists at Monash University found 69 medications in insects collected in waters around Melbourne, including painkillers, antibiotics, antidepressants and blood pressure treatments.

They say that while the highest levels of contamination were found near wastewater treatment plants, low levels were also detected in insects from more pristine areas.

Global Warming

Climate Change to Affect the Gulf Making Life “Impossible”

It has been suggested that the environment in and around the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea will soon “exceed a threshold for human adaptability.”

Life in the Arab Gulf region, Yemen, parts of Iraq and great swaths of Iran, in other words, will no longer be possible. This ominous scenario, posited in one of 6,000 papers referenced in the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, warrants only a single line and is easily missed.

The Middle East is already more vulnerable to climate change than most regions because of limited water supplies and long summers that are already very hot. Rising temperatures will only reduce the availability of water, stoking tensions already straining relations between neighboring states.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which once watered the flowering of civilization in ancient Mesopotamia, rise in the Armenian Highlands. Facing the rising threat of desertification, Turkey is increasingly diverting water from these rivers for its own agricultural needs and depriving its southern neighbor, Iraq, of supplies. Downstream in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, lack of fresh water has already led to a public health crisis and violent protests this year, raising the specter of a future blighted by water wars.

The body adapts to increases in environmental temperature through perspiration and subsequent evaporative cooling. As anyone who has waited in vain for a taxi in Abu Dhabi knows, extreme heat plus the proximity of a large body of water – such as the Gulf – equals high humidity, which prevents the body from regulating its internal temperature through evaporation. This is “wet bulb temperature,” or “TW” – a combination of temperature and humidity, or “mugginess.”

In the current summer climate experienced around the Gulf, when the actual temperature is at about 40 degrees, the wet bulb temperature is between 28 and an extremely uncomfortable 30 degrees. It has rarely exceeded 31

In the current summer climate experienced around the Gulf, when the actual temperature is at about 40 degrees, the wet bulb temperature is between 28 and an extremely uncomfortable 30 degrees. It has rarely exceeded 31.

The MIT scientists estimate that the maximum wet bulb temperature, or TWmax, at which even the fittest human being could not survive outdoors for more than six hours before suffering hyperthermia, or fatal overheating, is 35 degrees. If climate change is not checked, say the researchers, between 2071 and 2100 most of the territory bordering the Gulf, Red Sea and Arabian Sea will experience wet-bulb temperatures permanently between 31 and 35 degrees.

By the end of the century, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Dhahran and Bandar Abbas will regularly exceed 35 degrees, at which point life in the region will, to all practical intents and purposes, be over.

Yes, air-conditioning – if it can still be afforded and, indeed, be politically justified in the face of impending global climate-change catastrophe – might be able to cope indoors and in cars. But no one would be able to work or even survive outside, which would mean an end to construction and the vital businesses of tourism, ports and airports, while the rate of deaths from heat-related illnesses among the young and the elderly would become intolerable.

Climate change is altering the Bavarian Alps

It’s unseasonably warm on Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze. Thirty years ago, September would have brought freezing temperatures and the first snow flurries. Today, tourists explore the bare, snowless, moon-like rockscape in T-shirts and shorts.

The glaciers have all but disappeared too. The Northern Schneeferner has shrunk to a mere 25 percent of its 1950 volume. On the Southern Schneeferner, it’s even worse as only 6 percent is left.

As temperatures increase, the permafrost — a layer of sediment, rock or soil that remains frozen for more than two consecutive years and that stabilizes the mountain rock — is retreating too. That and increased rainfall, have caused the rocks to lose their stability, leading to more than a thousand rockfalls in the Alps in the past year.

A number of Alpine huts have already begun to subside as the ground beneath them shifts, he said. Anchors for cable cars and other infrastructure will also need to be stabilized. Some traditional climbing routes have been closed for safety reasons too.

Environment

Glaciers Created a Huge ‘Flour’ Dust Storm in Greenland

If you’re in Greenland and a strange cloud darkens the sky, that cloud might be made up of something scientists call “glacier flour.”

Researchers have written and speculated about glacier-flour dust storms in Greenland for a long time, according to NASA. But it took until this September for investigators to spot such a massive plume of the elusive dust forming and drifting 80 miles (130 kilometers) northwest of the far-northern village of Ittoqqortoormiit. Glacier flour is a fine dust created when glaciers pulverize rocks, NASA wrote. While satellites had occasionally spotted smaller storms of the stuff, this one was “by far the largest.”

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Environment

Air Pollution

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that air pollution has become so acute that the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people annually worldwide while also harming billions of others.

“The world has turned the corner on tobacco. Now it must do the same for the ‘new tobacco’ – the toxic air that billions breathe every day,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The U.N. agency estimates that 91 percent of the world’s population now lives in areas with air pollution above WHO limits.

It says children and babies are the most vulnerable to the toxic effects of air pollution.

Environment

False Spring

Cherry trees burst into bloom several months ahead of schedule from Japan’s southern island of Kyushu northward to Hokkaido.

The iconic trees apparently were “tricked” into early bloom by severe weather from two strong typhoons followed by the recent unusually warm weather.

Some experts blamed high winds that blew leaves off the trees, while others say thick, salty sea air blown in by the typhoons confused the trees into a fall bloom.

Environment

Cats vs rats

The first study to look at how talented feral cats are at killing wild rats found that the felines just aren’t very good at that task.

Writing in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, lead researcher Michael H. Parsons of Fordham University said the findings add to the growing evidence that any benefit of using cats to control city rats is outweighed by the threat they pose to birds and other urban wildlife.

Earlier studies found that cats prefer smaller, defenseless prey such as birds and smaller native wildlife, which makes cats a threat to urban ecosystems.

Environment

Planet Earth Wobbles As It Spins

Since 1899, the Earth’s axis of spin has shifted about 34 feet (10.5 meters). Now, research quantifies the reasons why and finds that a third is due to melting ice and rising sea levels, particularly in Greenland — placing the blame on the doorstep of anthropogenic climate change.

Another third of the wobble is due to land masses expanding upward as the glaciers retreat and lighten their load. The final portion is the fault of the slow churn of the mantle, the viscous middle layer of the planet.

Also, Earth’s spin isn’t perfectly even, as scientists know thanks to slight wiggles in the movements of the stars across the night sky that have been recorded for thousands of years. Since the 1990s, space-based measurements have also confirmed that the Earth’s axis of rotation drifts by a few centimeters a year, generally toward Hudson Bay in northeastern Canada.

Researchers knew that a proportion of this wobble was caused by glacial isostatic adjustment, an ongoing process since the end of the last ice age 16,000 years ago. As the glaciers retreat, they relieve the land underneath of their mass. Gradually, over thousands of years, the land responds to this relief by rising like bread dough. (In some places on the edges of the ancient ice sheets, the land might also collapse because the ice had forced it to bulge upward.)

The remaining proportion of Earth’s wobble is accounted for by the melting of the Greenland ice cap and melting glaciers redistributing mass as well as the convective movement of the Earth’s mantle as hotter material rises and cooler material sinks.

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