Radiation – Chernobyl

Fission reactions appear to be occurring in an inaccessible chamber of Ukraine’s crippled Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which exploded 35 years ago.

Scientists say they don’t know if the slow rise in neutron emissions will fizzle out or increase, forcing them to find ways to prevent another catastrophe. “It’s like the embers in a barbecue pit,” said nuclear chemist Neil Hyatt of the University of Sheffield. He says the new rates of fission are very low and believes they probably will not lead to an explosion. But scientists on the scene say they are not sure since there is no direct way to monitor what is happening inside the sealed and intensely radioactive chamber.


New Lightning Capital?

Florida, especially around the Tampa Bay Area, has long been renowned as the capital of lightning strikes in the United States.

But researchers from the Finland-based environmental monitoring company Vaisala say that Oklahoma has narrowly surpassed the Sunshine State for that distinction. Its research found there were 83.4 lightning events per square kilometer in Oklahoma between 2016 and 2020 compared with 82.8 in Florida. But Vaisala meteorologist Chris Vagasky says with statistics that close, it’s hard to say that one state has truly overtaken the other.


Massive DDT Dumping Ground off California Coast

The sea bottom near southern California has been hiding a very dirty secret: decades of discarded chemicals in thousands of barrels. And the toxic debris field is even bigger than anyone expected, containing at least 27,000 drums of DDT and industrial waste, scientists recently discovered.

High concentrations of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, an insecticide that was widely used for pest control during the 1940s and 1950s) were previously detected in ocean sediments between the Los Angeles coast and Catalina Island, in 2011 and 2013. At the time, scientists who searched the seafloor in the area identified 60 barrels (possibly containing DDT or other waste) and found DDT contamination in sediments, but the full extent of the area’s contamination was unknown.

Now, a research expedition presents a clearer picture of the deep-sea dump site. Their findings reveal a stretch of ocean bottom studded with at least 27,000 industrial waste barrels — and possibly as many as 100,000.

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Plastic Winds

The scattering of plastic pollution in the world’s waterways and atmosphere is now resulting in the “plastification” of the planet, with the debris “spiraling around the globe” in the wind.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that smaller microplastics can remain in the atmosphere for nearly a week, which is long enough for them to be carried across an ocean or a continent. A lot of the airborne particles are from decades-old, broken-down items such as plastic bags, wrappers and bottles.

But the biggest sources are roadways, where the tires of large trucks and other vehicles degrade into tiny bits as they rumble along and are picked up by the wind.


Millions of tons of nuclear wastewater from Fukushima will be dumped into the sea

Japan’s government announced on Tuesday (April 13) that it will dump more than a million tons of contaminated wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the Pacific Ocean, beginning in two years.

Roughly 1.25 million tons (1.13 million metric tons) of water have accumulated around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan since 2011, after a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami devastated the region. The twin disasters killed nearly 20,000 people, according to NPR, and caused meltdowns in three of the plant’s six reactors, triggering the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

To keep the remaining reactor cores from melting, officials with the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) have been pumping nearly 200 tons (180 metric tons) of cooling water through the site every day. That contaminated wastewater is stored in more than 1,000 enormous tanks on site and automatically filtered to remove most of the radioactive material, except for tritium — a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is considered hazardous to human health in large amounts.

Now, 10 years after the disaster, TEPCO is running out of room to store the wastewater. The disposal plan, which was approved in a government cabinet meeting on Tuesday, will see the wastewater gradually discharged into the Pacific Ocean, most likely over the course of several decades.


Arctic Lightning

With the region around the North Pole heating up much faster than any other area of the planet due to climate change, atmospheric and space physicists from the University of Washington say the amount of lightning in the Arctic has grown by more than 300% during the past 11 years. They made the conclusion by looking at data from the World Wide Lightning Location Network.

While the scientists say they have no proof of a link between the warming and lightning increase, it is well known that the Arctic has typically been far too cold in the past to support the kind of updrafts that create thunderstorms and the accompanying lightning.

Coldest Ever

A U.S. research satellite detected a record-low temperature for the planet, which occurred atop a supercharged thunderstorm in the tropical Pacific just over three years ago.

Sensors aboard the NOAA-20 spacecraft found the temperature in an “overshooting top” of a soaring cumulonimbus cloud plunged to -168 degrees F.

While overshooting tops are common in thunderstorms, intense updrafts inside a thunderhead on Dec. 29, 2018, about 300 miles south of Naura Island in Micronesia, sent the top of the cloud punching into the lower stratosphere. This was in part due to the very warm ocean waters below. Such intense storms have become more frequent.


Floods and Pests

Southeastern Australia’s worst floods in 50 years have forced thousands from their homes and driven a frightening number of snakes and spiders into populated areas. Other wildlife are also scrambling for higher ground, including skinks, ants and crickets.

The hordes of spiders invading people’s homes have proven to be the most traumatic for many residents. But they are advised not reach for insecticides because the arachnids will eventually leave when the waters recede.

Plastic Pathogens

Researchers say they have found that the vast amounts of microplastics released into the environment from wastewater treatment plants each day may be “hubs” for antibiotic-resistant bacteria and other pathogens. A team from the New Jersey Institute of Technology says the plastic pollution forms a slimy layer of film on the surface of wastewater, which collects dangerous microorganisms and allows them to commingle and mix with antibiotic waste. The scientists say this poses a threat to marine life and human health if the plastic-borne pathogens bypass the treatment process, which is typically not designed to remove the plastics.


More than 50 new environmental chemicals detected in people

Researchers have detected more than 50 new environmental chemicals lurking in people’s bodies, the vast majority of which are little known or unknown compounds. The findings are concerning given that very little is known about these chemicals and their potential health effects.

Of these newly detected chemicals, two were perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. These chemicals, used in consumer products such as nonstick cookware and pizza boxes, stay in the human body for a long time and can accumulate, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ten of the newly detected substances were plasticizers, or chemicals used in the production of plastics. For example, one of the detected plasticizers, a group of chemicals called phthalates, are often found in fast-food packaging and have been associated with adverse health effects. Two of the newly detected chemicals are used in cosmetics; one in pesticides. But most — 37 — of these newly detected chemicals are ones that researchers have little to no information on.


Mice Plague – Eastern Australia

Mice in the cabinets. Mice in the streets. Thousands upon thousands of mice in the barn, pooing so much it takes six hours to clean up their waste.

These are scenes from Queensland and New South Wales, Australia, where an out-of-control mouse infestation is making life miserable for farmers, grocers and other citizens of the eastern Australian states. One farmer described the rodent frenzy as “an absolute plague,” more severe than anything locals have seen in decades.

Some farmers have already lost entire grain harvests to the rampaging mice, according to local media reports, while hotels have had to close because they can’t keep the critters out of the rooms. Staff at a grocery store in a small town northwest of Sydney reported catching as many as 600 mice a night. So far, at least three people have visited the hospital with rodent bites.


Smoke alarm

Intense, widespread bushfires in Australia injected huge amounts of smoke into the stratosphere in 2020. Hirsch and Koren found that this smoke caused record-breaking levels of aerosols over the Southern Hemisphere, as much as that from a moderate volcanic eruption. The severity was caused by a combination of the vigour of the fires and their location at a latitude with a shallow tropopause and within the midlatitude cyclones belt. This aerosol increase caused considerable cooling over oceanic cloud-free areas.

Pulveriszing Plastic

Scientists say they have found a way to cleanly, efficiently and cheaply break down polystyrene, a type of plastic used in packaging material, food containers, cutlery and other items.

A team from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and Clemson University says it has found a way to grind up the polystyrene with metal ball bearings until a desired chemical reaction occurs. This type of “mechanochemistry” deconstructs the plastic through chemical events in which the metal bearings and oxygen in the air act as co-catalysts. The resulting debris can be used to create other products. “We think this proof of concept is an exciting possibility for developing new recycling technologies for all kinds of plastics,” said senior scientist Viktor Balema.


Orange veil of dust chokes Beijing in record-breaking sandstorm

Beijing has been enveloped in one of its most severe sandstorms in over a decade, which has combined with air pollution to create a toxic, gritty haze that turned skies orange and made the skyline disappear.

The sandstorm hit the Chinese capital on Monday morning (March 15) after gale-force winds from Mongolia blew dust from the Gobi desert over the border. In Mongolia, 341 people are missing after the same sandstorm blew across the country.

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Radioactive Dust

As a huge plume of Saharan dust cast a pall over parts of Spain and France in early March, a leading expert warned that the desert particles can still contain residual radioactivity from the 1960s French nuclear tests in southern Algeria.

Radiation protection expert Pierre Barbey of France’s University of Caen Normandy says he analyzed Saharan dust that fell on his car in the Alps during a recent episode and found it contained minute amounts of cesium-137 created by the blasts. While the radiation is now too weak to harm humans, Barbey says the finding “does say a lot about the persistence of radioactive pollution.”


First Space Hurricane

Typical hurricanes are easy to spot in satellite imagery: Swirling clouds surround a quiet eye. These storms usually form in the lowest layer of the atmosphere, closer to Earth’s surface, and unleash heavy rain and strong winds.

But according to a recent study, space hurricanes are wholly different beasts.

The research, published in the journal Nature Communications, describes the first space hurricane ever spotted. Satellites observed it in August 2014 – a swirling mass with a quiet center more than 125 miles above the North Pole.

Whereas regular hurricanes churn air, this space hurricane was an eddy of plasma, a type of super hot, charged gas found throughout the solar system. And instead of rain, this storm brought showers of electrons.

The space hurricane was more than 998 kilometres wide, and high in the sky – it formed in the ionosphere layer. The space hurricane lasted eight hours, swirling in a counter-clockwise direction. It had several spiral arms snaking out from its center, according to the researchers, a bit like a spiral galaxy. Once it had formed, the storm acted like a channel from space into Earth’s atmosphere – funnelling some electrons down past the planet’s armour.


Arctic Open for Navigation

Global heating has melted so much of the thick multi-year ice off the coast of Siberia that Russia has for the first time been able to navigate a cargo ship from Asia to a home port on the Arctic Ocean in winter. By using the newly opened Northern Sea Route (NSR) instead of the traditional path around Asia and the Middle East, through the Suez Canal and around Europe, the Sovcomflot shipping company saved millions of dollars and days of travel time. Traffic through the NSR has exploded during summer in recent years but has remained closed from November until July. Russia now has plans to use its expanding fleet of civilian nuclear-powered icebreakers to make the path available year-round.


Oil Spill in the Mediterranean

A suspected oil tanker leak off the coast of Israel last week has led to Israel’s biggest maritime ecological disaster in many years, with authorities closing the country’s beaches and beginning a massive cleanup effort.

Chunks of sticky, black tar began washing up late last week. On Sunday, Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry warned people to avoid going to beaches from the country’s northern border with Lebanon all the way to the south near the Gaza Strip. Tar exposure can make people sick and irritate the skin.

The tar pollution has already affected wildlife. Volunteers rushed to rescue sea birds, turtles and fish that were covered in oily residue or had ingested oil. One species that has ecologists particularly worried is a reef-building snail called Dendropoma petraeum. As the Mediterranean Sea heats up due to global warming, the snail’s population on the Israeli coast has plummeted. That makes the species particularly vulnerable to other ecological disasters.


Bitcoin Fuel

Electricity used to operate Bitcoin’s “mining” operations around the world now exceeds that used by the entire nation of Argentina.

Experts told the BBC that the energy consumed by the cryptocurrency’s operations increased sharply as its value soared to ever-higher record levels during February. The complex puzzles that run on a vast network of computers, required to keep Bitcoin secure and verify its transactions, consume an enormous amount of power. The operators of those “mining” efforts earn a small amount of bitcoins for the tasks, with some filling warehouses with computers that operate continuously to maximize profits.

Some suggest imposing a carbon tax on all cryptocurrencies to offset the greenhouse gas emissions that result from their operations.