Environment

Scientists Study Sea Levels 125,000 Years Ago

Sea levels rose 10 metres above present levels during Earth’s last warm period 125,000 years ago, according to new research that offers a glimpse of what may happen under our current climate change trajectory.

The paper, published today in Nature Communications, shows that melting ice from Antarctica was the main driver of sea level rise in the last interglacial period, which lasted about 10,000 years.

Rising sea levels are one of the biggest challenges to humanity posed by climate change, and sound predictions are crucial if we are to adapt.

This research shows that Antarctica, long thought to be the “sleeping giant” of sea level rise, is actually a key player. Its ice sheets can change quickly, and in ways that could have huge implications for coastal communities and infrastructure in future.

Earth’s cycles consist of both cold glacial periods – or ice ages – when large parts of the world are covered in large ice sheets, and warmer interglacial periods when the ice thaws and sea levels rise.

The Earth is presently in an interglacial period which began about 10,000 years ago. But greenhouse gas emissions over the past 200 years have caused climate changes that are faster and more extreme than experienced during the last interglacial. This means past rates of sea level rise provide only low-end predictions of what might happen in future.

Environment

Pollution – Oil Spill, Brazil

Brazil says a Greek ship carrying Venezuelan oil has caused an oil spill that blackened tropical beaches along 2,500 km of its coasts over the last two months. Oil slicks have been appearing for three months off the coast of northeast Brazil and fouling beaches along a 2 500km area of Brazil’s most celebrated shoreline. Crews and volunteers have cleaned up tons of oil on the beaches.

Officials say it not yet possible to quantify the environmental and economic damage from the oil slicks. The government on Friday named a Greek-flagged tanker as the prime suspect behind the oil slicks. The ship Bouboulina took on oil in Venezuela and was headed for Singapore.

Environment

Pollution – New Delhi

Air quality has dropped to its worst recorded level this year in New Delhi and nearby cities, with a thick haze hanging over the Indian capital. Delhi pollution has been described ‘like smoking 50 cigarettes a day’.

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Environment

Pollution – Plastic or Cans

Producers of bottled water are scrambling to find practical ways to switch from the single-use plastics that are polluting the planet to recyclable aluminum cans.

The biggest challenge is that creating each can means twice as much carbon is released into the atmosphere than from the manufacture of one plastic bottle. Cans are also more expensive to make.

Marketing experts say this is somewhat offset because less power is needed to chill water in cans.

Wild Earth

Despite humankind wielding an overwhelming influence on the planet, scientists say that half of Earth’s land surface not covered in ice still remains relatively wild, albeit broken into small, isolated tracts.

The summary of a National Geographic Society global survey conducted in 2017 and 2018 concludes that even with the damage to the environment caused by human activities, there is still an opportunity to protect what wild places are left.

The wildest remaining regions are the remote boreal forests of northern Canada and Russia, the Central Asia highlands, the Central and South American rainforests and the deserts of North Africa and Australia.

Environment

Fly Relief

The misery that cows suffer from biting flies could be greatly reduced, thanks to a novel paint job for the animals devised by a team of Japanese researchers.

They found that by painting white stripes on cows, similar to those on zebras, the number of flies landing on the cows fell by more than 50 percent.

Flies seem to avoid landing on black-and-white surfaces due to the difference in the polarization of light reflecting off the two shades, which confuses the flies.

Writing in the journal PLOS One, scientists say fewer flies on the striped cows led to a sharp decline in the fly-defense movements made by the bovines, such as stomping of the feet and flipping of the head.

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Oil Spill – Brazil

Brazilian officials are pointing their fingers at Venezuela for a massive oil spill that has polluted hundreds of miles of beaches in nine northeastern states during the past few weeks.

The spill has killed numerous sea turtles and kept swimmers and fishermen from the contaminated coastal strip.

Brazil’s Environment Minister Ricardo Salles said the spill appears to have come from Venezuela, and that more than 110 tons of oil have been recovered.

“It could be something criminal, it could be an accidental spill, it could also be a ship that sank,” said Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro.

Environment

Demand for charcoal threatens Madagascar’s forests

In the southwestern part of the country, charcoal is everywhere: sold on the side of major roads as well as next to coffee shops in remote villages. At about $1 for a sack the size of a large garbage bag, it is cheap even by Malagasy standards. But charcoal comes with a high environmental price that has to be paid by somebody.

Firewood, while not without its own environmental costs, typically entails collecting branches that are already dead and fallen. But to make charcoal people cut down living trees. They then burn the wood in a low-oxygen environment inside a kiln to turn it into nearly pure carbon that burns hotter, weighs less and lasts much longer than firewood — hence its popularity.

At least 15,000 hectares (37,100 acres) of dry forest located to the north and south of Toliara, the closest major city to Mikea Forest, are razed each year for fuelwood, according to the NGO World Wide Fund for Nature Madagascar. Much of this logging is done illegally.

Looking at 323,000 hectares of forest that includes Mikea National Park, the forest monitoring platform Global Forest Watch reports that approximately 37,000 hectares (91,400 acres) of tree cover was lost between 2001 and 2018 — nearly 11.5 percent of the total area.

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Environment

Nuclear Waste Flush

Japan’s power company is running out of storage for the radioactive water held in tanks at the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant and will have to start dumping it into the Pacific.

Since the 2011 meltdowns, brought on by an offshore temblor and subsequent tsunami, the Tokyo Electric Power Company has collected more than 1 million tons of contaminated water from the cooling pipes that keep the remaining reactors from melting.

“The only option will be to drain it into the sea and dilute it,” Environment Minister Yoshiaki Harada told a news conference in Tokyo.

Environment

Drought in Botswana

Animal are struggling to survive in drought-hit Botswana. Around 38,000 livestock depend on the waters of Lake Ngami in northern Botswana, but the animals — like the lake itself — are being badly hit by a crippling drought. Hippo have also been severely affected seeking out the few remaining pools of muddy water to survive.

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Environment

Eruptive Bloom

The more than 1 billion tons of lava that spewed into the Pacific last summer from the eruption of Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano triggered an algae superbloom offshore that initially puzzled scientists.

There are no nutrients contained in Kilauea’s lava. But Southern California and Hawaii scientists found that as the lava flowed deep into the coastal waters off the Big Island, its heat caused nitrates, silicic acid, iron and phosphate nutrients to rise from the deep, fueling the algae growth on the surface.

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Pacific Hot Blob

The unusually hot sea-surface temperatures that caused algae blooms and sea lion deaths in the Pacific several years ago are back.

The “hot blob” is basically caused by unusually weak winds, which typically don’t stay weak for long. But they have this summer, and lingering heat from the last warming seems to be amplifying the current outbreak.

Oceanographers say that if the hot water stays around for a long time, it will begin to penetrate deeper into the Pacific, increasing its influences on marine life.

Environment

Record Heatwave in France Killed 1 500 people

Heat waves that plagued France this summer left some 1,500 people dead, according to the European nation’s health minister. There had been at about 1,000 more deaths than normal during the summer months, with half of the deceased being 75 or older. In total, there were 18 exceptionally hot days recorded in France during June and July.

Environment

Plastic Pollution

The plastic that humans unwittingly ingest has now been detected in stool samples from people in diverse locations around the world.

Writing in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, lead researcher Philipp Schwabl of the Medical University of Vienna says that none of the stool samples they examined was free of microplastics.

The test subjects showed signs of possible plastic exposure from food wrappers and bottles. Most had also consumed ocean-going fish, which are known to eat plastic.

Antibiotic Pollution

As much as 80 percent of the antibiotics entering the River Thames in human waste must be stopped to avoid the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, a new study says.

Researchers from Britain’s Center for Ecology & Hydrology warns that rivers are now reservoirs for the superbugs, which can spread quickly to people in water, soil, air, food and animals.

The study results came after England’s chief medical officer warned that microbes resistant to antibiotics could pose a more immediate risk to humans than climate change, with their potential to kill at least 10 million people a year worldwide.

Environment

Noxious Cloud of Carbon Monoxide Pollution Spills Out of the Burning Amazon

NASA has detected a gargantuan cloud of noxious carbon monoxide (CO) rising from the Amazon blaze into the atmosphere.

The plume first appears as a greenish blob over Brazil before rapidly spreading out past the eastern and western coasts of South America, gradually darkening from green to yellow to red. This color shift signifies an increase in CO concentration in the atmosphere from about 100 parts per billion by volume (ppbv) to 160 ppbv in less than two weeks.

Environment

Radioactive Spike

Tiny amounts of radioactive iodine were detected in the air along Norway’s border with Russia following a deadly explosion that occurred during a secret rocket engine test in northern Russia’s Arkhangelsk region.

Russia’s meteorological agency said radiation levels in the city of Severodvinsk spiked by up to 16 times following the nearby blast.

U.S. experts believe Russia was testing a nuclear-powered cruise missile when the explosion occurred, killing five research staff and military personnel.

Four of the five stations in Russia that scan for radionuclide particles in the air for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization went silent for days following the blast.

Rain Tree

A team of Chinese and international researchers say they have developed an inexpensive solar-powered “tree” that desalts enough water each day from the sea to provide clean drinking water for at least three people per “leaf.”

The scientists say roots made of cotton fibers soak up water and send it up a metal stem, where leaves made of black-carbon paper convert sunlight into heat.

After the water is heated by the leaves to nearly 122 degrees Fahrenheit, the resulting water vapor is cooled and condensed back as fresh water.

The technology could be deployed in small communities or on remote islands to help ease water shortages.

Environment

Smoke from Burning Amazon Turns São Paulo Afternoon into Midnight

There’s so much smoke from wildfires in the Amazon rainforest that São Paulo plunged into darkness on Monday afternoon (Aug. 19), with day turning into night. The atmosphere was a reminder that forest fires in the Amazon have surged 82% this year compared with the same period last year (from January to August).

That smoke, combined with clouds and a cold front (it’s winter in the Southern Hemisphere), led to the midnight-like darkness in São Paulo. The fires are largely burning in northern Brazil and have prompted the Brazilian state of Amazonas to declare a state of emergency.

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Environment

Plastic Pollution goes Airborne

Tiny bits of microplastics have been discovered in recent months in rainwater and snowfall from Colorado to the Arctic.

They join similar plastic pollution that has shown up in groundwater, rivers and lakes, and at the deepest depths of the sea.

Scientists from the Northwest Passage Project, taking ice core samples this summer in Arctic Canada, say they also found visible plastic beads and filaments of various shapes and sizes in the ice.

Earlier studies have found that plastic has fallen from the sky in Europe’s Pyrenees Mountains, a region near Hong Kong, the Iranian capital of Tehran and Paris.

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