Ocean Plastic Pollution
The international nonprofit advocacy organization, Oceana, released a new report this month that lists plastic pollution as the #1 killer of marine wildlife. The team of researchers surveyed government agencies, organizations, and institutes to collect data on how plastic pollution is impacting marine life.
The researchers say the biggest problem they found was animals consuming plastic. This can happen due to an animal mistaking plastic for food or inadvertently swallowing plastic materials while swimming. Becoming entangled in plastic was also listed as a frequent problem. This can lead to the animal choking, suffering physical trauma, or not being able to feed properly.
Scientists report they have found the uppermost-recorded microplastic pollution on the planet near the summit of Mount Everest. An international team organized by England’s University of Plymouth says it collected “substantial quantities” of polyester, acrylic, nylon and polypropylene fibers at an elevation of 27,690 feet. The team says that while some could be from material carried up Everest by climbers, much of it could have been blown there by the powerful winds that often impact the mountain’s higher slopes. Plastic pollution has been found in recent years from the world’s highest mountain to its deepest ocean trench.
Researchers have found that most whales, turtles and fish may be swimming the world’s oceans with plastic in their bodies.
Writing in the journal Global Change Biology, Marga Rivas at Spain’s University of Almería and her team analyzed data from 112 published studies from the past decade. They conclude that 66% of all sea turtles had macroplastics and microplastics in their systems, while 55% were contaminated with a class called microfibers.
The highest rates of plastic contamination were in the Mediterranean and northeastern Indian Ocean.
Dirty Polluters Live On
Many of the world’s oldest and most-polluting vehicles are not winding up in scrapyards but are instead being “dumped” on the roadways of poor countries where they continue to spew high carbon emissions.
A report by the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) says that from 2015 to 2018, about 14 million outdated cars were exported from Europe, Japan and the U.S., with most winding up in Africa, Latin America and Asia. One of the UNEP report authors says about 80% of those vehicles aren’t roadworthy and don’t meet European emission standards.
The massive deaths of sea creatures along the eastern coast of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula are being blamed by officials on a natural bloom of toxic algae and not on man-made pollution.
Images of dead seals, octopuses and other marine life started appearing on social media in early October, accompanied by reports of local residents complaining of being sickened as well. Russia’s Investigative Committee said the deaths were entirely due to natural causes. But initial tests found levels of oil products and phenol, used to make plastics, in the water.
Pollution – Europe
Air pollution remains Europe’s top environmental threat to health, with more than 400,000 premature deaths due to air pollution every year in the EU, according to a European Environment Agency report.
New research finds that microplastic pollution is causing harm to the tiny creatures living in the ground. Writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, scientists say the assault is occurring in soil-dwelling mites, larvae and other creatures that are crucial to the fertility of the land. They play an important role in recycling carbon and nitrogen, and they break down organic material.
Plots contaminated with microplastics saw a reduction of those creatures of between 15% and 62%, the scientists said.
An increasing number of polluting ships are now sailing across the Siberian coastal stretch of the Arctic Ocean because of the more open waters that have resulted from record melting sea ice.
An analysis by Reuters found that traffic through the icy waters’ busiest routes along the coast of Siberia increased 58% between 2016 and 2019. Those ships are carrying iron ore, oil, liquified natural gas and other fuels. Reuters says that the COVID pandemic has not slowed the trend, with 935 voyages being documented in the first half of 2020, compared with 855 in the same period last year.
Indian Ocean Oil Pollution
Wildlife experts say it could take decades for the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius to recover from the 1,000 metric tons of oil that spilled into its pristine waters from a grounded and off-course Japanese tanker. The vessel rammed into a reef and begin spilling oil faster than local volunteers and crews, some wading without protective gear, could halt its spread. But it was a losing battle for a country where tourism and fishing drive the economy. Its reefs, endangered animals and plants, mangrove forests and lagoons have already suffered a massive poisonous shock, according to Mauritian environmental scientist Adam Moolna.
Arctic wildfires emit more CO2 in two months than whole of 2019
In total, smoke from the wildfires was covering an area of about 3.6 million sqkm on Wednesday – more than a third of the area of Canada
Smoke from massive fires in the Arctic has blanketed nearby cities and could travel thousands of kilometers to other parts of the world, raising concerns among scientists about poor air quality and exacerbated global warming.
Out-of-control wildfires north of the Arctic Circle have released more dangerous greenhouse gases in two months than all of the fires last year combined, the Independent reports.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.