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

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

Nearly half of Americans are breathing filthy air

The Clean Air Act enacted in 1963 is very nice, but nearly half of Americans breathe polluted air, the American Lung Association reported last week. Climate change is contributing to the situation in multiple ways, including increasing use of artificial environment enhancers – aka air conditioners – as record heat withers the cities, and heaters when record snows and cold descend; and wildfires, which significantly boost soot in the air – one of the many forms of particle pollution. The association points out that particle pollution can trigger “heart attacks and strokes, and cause lung cancer. New research also links air pollution to the development of serious diseases, such as asthma and dementia.” Also, the filthier the air you breathe, the more likely you are to suffer serious consequences if you catch COVID-19.

Environment

China Pollution Declines

Pollution levels over China have declined significantly, US space Agency NASA says, partly due to the economic slowdown following the coronavirus outbreak. Satellite images shared by NASA show falling levels of nitrogen dioxide. The gas is emitted by motor vehicles, power plants and industrial facilities.

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Global Warming

Carbon Pollution

Smoke from the massive Australia bushfires of recent months will contribute to an anticipated record annual rise in atmospheric carbon emissions this year, according to Britain’s Met Office.

The CO2 concentration is predicted to peak above 417 parts per million (ppm) in May, while the 2020 average should be around 414 ppm. That would be nearly 3 ppm above the 2019 average, according to the agency.

Smoke from the protracted bushfire crisis will contribute up to one-fifth of the CO2 increase caused by global warming’s altered weather patterns and the resulting effects on the landscape, the British experts say.

As our planet gets greener, plants are slowing global warming

In a new study, published in Nature Reviews Earth & Environment, the researchers report that climate-altering carbon emissions and intensive land use have inadvertently greened half of the Earth’s vegetated lands.

Green leaves convert sunlight to sugars while replacing carbon dioxide in the air with water vapor, which cools the Earth’s surface. The reasons for greening vary around the world, but often involve intensive use of land for farming, large-scale planting of trees, a warmer and wetter climate in northern regions, natural reforestation of abandoned lands, and recovery from past disturbances.

And the chief cause of global greening we’re experiencing? It seems to be that rising carbon dioxide emissions are providing more and more fertilizer for plants, the researchers say. As a result, the boom of global greening since the early 1980s may have slowed the rate of global warming, the researchers say, possibly by as much as 0.2 to 0.25 degrees Celsius.

Global Warming

China’s Incentive To Pollute: Global Warming Is Big Business

While most countries are fast decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, China’s overall carbon emissions almost tripled between 2000 and 2018. The country now accounts for almost 30 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, while only numbering 18 percent of the world’s population.

China’s rapid economic growth, averaging about 9.1 percent annually since 2000, according to self-reported figures and based in large part on fossil-fuels, is alone sufficient to push global warming beyond the safe temperature of 2°C within 16 years.

China is disincentivized to limit its own greenhouse gas emissions as 1) its internal economy depends on the burning of cheap energy, and 2) its growing clean energy exports, including solar, wind, hydro, and nuclear, depend on world demand to limit the effects of global warming. China’s authoritarian leadership depends for its survival on compensating its population, which cannot vote, through quick and dirty economic growth.

The Northeast warms ahead of rest of USA

Northeast states are among the fastest warming in the U.S., a trend that can be detected down to the county level. Here’s a look at how air temperatures in each county over the past five years compares with 20th century averages. In much of the region, the greatest temperature changes follow the coastline.

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Wildlife

Toxic Cities

On Sept. 9, 2019, a mountain lion was found dead in the Santa Monica Mountains. It was the fifth mountain lion to die from consuming rat poison in that region. Rodenticides aren’t the only health risks that urban wildlife face. Wildlife living in cities or suburban areas experience unique health challenges compared to their country cousins, often due to human activities.

A recent study found that overall, urban wildlife had poorer health than wildlife in more natural areas. This was mostly due to urban animals having more toxicants in their tissues. Toxicants are toxic substances artificially introduced into the environment by human activity and include pesticides, industrial pollutants and heavy metals.

Toxicants can potentially harm animals’ reproduction, development and survival. Exposure to heavy metals has been found to weaken the immune system of tree swallows, possibly making animals more susceptible to disease or less able to recover from infection.

Another study demonstrated that exposing amphibians to pesticides increased their susceptibility to infection with a parasitic worm. Amphibian populations are in decline globally, in part due to disease, and so it is important to understand how toxicants influence disease to conserve threatened populations.

Environment

Smoke Pollution – Sydney, Australia

Bushfire smoke smothered Sydney on Tuesday, setting off fire alarms, suspending ferry services and triggering health warnings over choking air pollution.

The Sydney Opera House and harbour bridge were barely discernible through the thick haze enveloping the city, with smoke stinging the eyes and making it difficult to breathe.

The Air Quality Index compiled by the state environment department reached as high as 2,552 in some eastern suburbs — soaring past the “hazardous” threshold of 200. The pollution has been so bad it has set off smoke alarms in office buildings across the CBD, while ash has been washing up on the city’s usually pristine beaches. Flight arrivals at Sydney Airport were delayed by up to 30 minutes due to poor visibility.

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Wildlife

‘Litter Ball’ Found Inside a Dead Sperm Whale

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When workers with a whale strandings agency in Scotland performed a necropsy on a recently beached sperm whale, they found a gruesome surprise: The animal had died with around 220 lbs. (100 kilograms) of trash in its stomach. The young male sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) washed ashore on Nov. 28 at Luskentyre beach in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides islands. It died shortly thereafter.

Fishing nets, rope bundles, tubes and an assortment of plastic garbage formed a compact mass — a so-called litter ball — inside the 20-ton whale, “and some of it it looked like it had been there for some time.

While the amount of garbage inside the whale was “horrific,” the animal appeared to be in good health and wasn’t malnourished, according to the post. It’s likely that the trash ball interfered with digestion, but SMASS experts didn’t find any signs that the ingested debris blocked the whale’s intestines.

Australia’s Extinct Species

It’s well established that unsustainable human activity is damaging the health of the planet. The way we use Earth threatens our future and that of many animals and plants. Species extinction is an inevitable end point.

It’s important that the loss of Australian nature be quantified accurately. To date, putting an exact figure on the number of extinct species has been challenging. But in the most comprehensive assessment of its kind, research has confirmed that 100 endemic Australian species living in 1788, such as the Tasman tiger, are now validly listed as extinct.

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Environment

Oxygen bar sells fresh air in pollution-hit New Delhi

With India’s capital engulfed in choking pollution, someone has sniffed an opportunity.

A bar offering fresh puffs of oxygen is proving popular among middle-aged and elderly residents of New Delhi. It was introduced in June but has proven a hit in recent weeks. The bar offers a 15-minute session to inhale a cocktail of oxygen in different flavours, for 500 rupees (€6.32).

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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.

Nature – Images

Interesting Images

Depressing Image Shows Dead Baby Sea Turtle Found with 104 Pieces of Plastic in Its Belly

Sea turtles aren’t made to eat plastic.

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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.