Environment

Hydrogen Power

Stanford scientists have proven they can use solar power to convert salt water taken directly from San Francisco Bay to create hydrogen gas.

On a larger scale, the process could achieve a truly pollution-free and carbon-neutral energy source to power cars and other devices.

Current methods of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen require the use of expensive purified water, which doesn’t corrode the electrodes that produce the splitting as does seawater at high voltages.

The researchers found that by using electrodes rich in negatively charged layers of nickel-iron hydroxide and nickel sulfide over a nickel foam core, the corrosion is significantly reduced.

Environment

Ice Quakes

Researchers studying Antarctica’s McMurdo Ice Shelf have discovered that thousands of tiny “ice quakes” occur there each day. The scientists from the University of Chicago believe they are caused by pools of partially melted ice as they refreeze at night.

“As the temperature cools at night, the ice on the top contracts, and the water below expands as it undergoes freezing,” said glaciologist Douglas MacAyeal. “This warps the top lid, until it finally breaks with a snap.” He and his colleagues believe using seismometers such as theirs elsewhere in Antarctica may help other scientists track glacier melting.

Environment

False Spring

With Britain experiencing some of its warmest late-February weather on record, naturalists are concerned for the early-emerging species.

Birds across the U.K. are already nesting and mating, with some arriving more than a month early.

But with the prediction of more typical late-winter weather in March, Tony Whitehead of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds says early-arriving swallows are taking a big risk to get good nesting sites.

Other naturalists say that flowers, insects and reptiles that have emerged early from winter could be in peril if a sudden chill arrives.

Environment

Marine Areas Around The World Where Plastic Is Piling Up

World map showing marine areas where plastic rubbish and microplastics are collected by ocean currents.

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Environment

Black Snow Is Falling from the Skies in Siberia

A pall of eerie black snow has covered several towns in the Siberian region of Kuzbass, which is home to 2.6 million people and one of the world’s largest coal fields.

According to the Guardian and the Siberian Times, the snow is tainted with toxic black coal dust that was released into the air from open coal pits and improperly maintained factories in the region. One coal plant official told the local media that a shield meant to prevent coal powder from escaping out of the factory had malfunctioned — however, toxic black snowfall seems to be a regular phenomena in the area and it isn’t necessarily tied to a single source.

Kuzbass (short for Kuznetsk Basin) is one of the largest coalfields in the world, spanning more than 10,000 square miles (26,000 square kilometers). A 2015 report from Ecodefense found that the citizens of Kuzbass have an average life expectancy 3 to 4 years shorter than the Russian national average and have nearly twice the risk of contracting tuberculosis and childhood mental disorders.

Black snows like this one are a frequent winter feature in the region, the report found, and mitigation attempts have been… lacking. For instance, in December 2018, regional authorities were accused of trying to hide the toxic black stuff by literally painting over it with white pigment.

Environment

Plastic Pollution

Microplastics proliferating in the world’s oceans appear to also be carrying a host of bacteria, some so toxic that they can cause coral bleaching in tropical waters and even bring infections to humans with open wounds. Bacteria known to cause gastroenteritis were also found.

Researchers from the National University of Singapore sampled plastic debris in the waters around the city-state. They found that among the bacteria hitching rides on the microplastics were some useful organisms, such as those that can break down pollutants in the water.

But lead researcher Sandric Leong cautioned that since marine life are eating the plastic, the accompanying pathogens could be passing up the food chain.

Environment

USA Withdraws from US-Russian Nuclear Treaty

When President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from a long-standing nuclear weapons treaty with Russia on Feb. 1, his actions set the stage for what many fear could be a new arms race between the global superpowers.

Trump’s decision was announced less than two weeks after scientists and policy experts with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) presented the 2019 position for the Doomsday Clock — a hypothetical clock whose time symbolizes how close the Earth is to destruction from nuclear war and other global threats.

On Jan. 24, BAS representatives declared that the clock’s hands would continue to stand at 2 minutes to midnight, the closest to absolute annihilation since the peak of the Cold War in 1953. Their dire warning came on the heels of the Trump administration’s statement of intent in October to withdraw the U.S. from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which was established in 1987 to restrict nuclear arsenals.

On Feb. 2, Russia announced that it, too, would abandon the INF treaty.

Environment

Plastic Meals

Researchers say microplastics were in the guts of every marine animal they examined that had washed up on the coast of Britain, including dolphins, seals and whales.

A team from the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory says most of the particles found in 50 animals from 10 different species were synthetic fibers, which can come from fishing nets, toothbrushes and clothing. They believe the rest came from sources such as food packaging and plastic bottles.

While it’s thought the plastic would eventually pass through the digestive systems or be regurgitated, the scientists say they “don’t yet know what effects the microplastics, or the chemicals on and in them, might have on marine mammals.”

Global Warming

Scientists Have Detected an Enormous Cavity Growing Beneath Antarctica

Antarctica is not in a good place. In the space of only decades, the continent has lost trillions of tonnes of ice at alarming rates we can’t keep up with, even in places we once thought were safe.

Now, a stunning new void has been revealed amidst this massive vanishing act, and it’s a big one: a gigantic cavity growing under West Antarctica that scientists say covers two-thirds the footprint of Manhattan and stands almost 300 metres (984 ft) tall.

This huge opening at the bottom of the Thwaites Glacier – a mass infamously dubbed the “most dangerous glacier in the world” – is so big it represents an overt chunk of the estimated 252 billion tonnes of ice Antarctica loses every year.

Researchers say the cavity would once have been large enough to hold some 14 billion tonnes of ice. Even more disturbing, the researchers say it lost most of this ice volume over the last three years alone.

The Thwaites Glacier actually holds in neighbouring glaciers and ice masses further inland. If its buttressing force disappeared, the consequences could be unthinkable, which is why it’s considered such a pivotal natural structure in the Antarctic landscape.

Environment

Iran’s Capital City Is Being Devoured by Sinkholes

Sinkholes and fissures are opening up the earth around Tehran, Iran’s capital city. And they threaten people’s homes and the local infrastructure.

The ground is cracking open, thanks to a water crisis that has deepened as Tehran’s population has ballooned. The region is in the midst of a three-decade-long drought and ongoing desertification. The problem has been compounded as the city’s population has grown to close to 8.5 million.

Water pumped from underground aquifers has gotten saltier every year as the city has increasingly relied on these underground water sources as opposed to rainwater. At the same time, a great deal of the dwindling water supply gets diverted to thirsty and inefficient agriculture.

As a result, land in the area is physically slumping in on itself. The ground around Tehran, sitting 3,900 feet (1,200 meters) above sea level, has subsided an average of 8.6 inches (22 centimeters) per year based on satellite measurements.

All that subsidence has cracked buildings and water pipes, opened holes in the drying earth, and caused miles-long fissures. Residents fear their buildings collapsing, Nature reported. The airport, oil refinery, highways and railroads in the area are all threatened.

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Environment

Doomsday Clock Hovers at 2 Minutes to ‘Midnight’

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Humanity might be running out of time to turn away from a path toward our utter annihilation — at least, according to the hypothetical Doomsday Clock.

Experts with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (BAS) updated the imaginary timepiece, which measures the proximity of humanity’s destruction based on the position of the clock’s hands relative to midnight — the hour of the impending apocalypse.

Last year the Doomsday Clock’s hands were set at 2 minutes to midnight, the closest it had ever been to “doomsday.” And, citing similar risks of humanity’s destruction, BAS representatives announced today that the clock will remain at 2 minutes to midnight.

But even though the clock’s hands haven’t moved, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the relentless progress of climate change — aided by widespread misinformation and fake news — are still a cause for grave concern, BAS representatives declared at a press event.

South Australia heatwave

Temperatures in southern Australian neared 48 degrees on Thursday, shattering previous records as sizzling citizens received free beer to help weather heatwave of historic proportions.

The Bureau of Meteorology reported temperatures of 47.9 Celsius (118 Fahrenheit) north of Adelaide, while inside the city temperatures reached 46.2 Celsius, a fraction above a record that had stood since 1939.

More than 13 towns across South Australia have smashed their own heat records, with some of the state forecast to see temperatures of 50 degrees by the end of the day.

Global Warming

Antarctic krill is moving southwards

Krill are moving further south from the Southern Ocean in vast numbers to an icier habitat as the oceans continue to warm, new research has found.

Scientists say warming conditions in recent decades have led to the krill migrating by about 270 miles (440km) toward the Antartic over the past 90 years.

The pink shrimp-like creatures are the primary food source for almost all sea creatures including other fish, penguins, seabirds and whales.

If this pattern continues, scientists warn that it will have negative ecosystem impacts and continue to see further dramatic declines in marine species.

There is already evidence that macaroni penguins and fur seals are competing for krill to support their populations.

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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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