Environment

Sahara Dust

One of the strongest in a series of powerful winter storms raging across parts of Europe drew in a massive plume of Saharan dust, which coated Pyrenees and Alpine ski resorts with an orange hue. The airborne particles also triggered respiratory problems in humans from Barcelona to southern France. Originating in Algeria, the dust turned skies red as far north as the German city of Stuttgart. The dust contained particles of calcite, ferric oxide, quartz and clay.

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Rodent Invasion

Parts of southeastern Australia have been overrun by a massive infestation of mice, with untold numbers of the ravenous rodents swarming into people’s homes and threatening crops.

The center of the infestation is in rural New South Wales, but the pests have also spread into parts of Queensland, Victoria and South Australia. Researcher Steve Henry blames abundant rainfall and a good harvest for allowing mice to spike in numbers starting last year. He says all that is needed to start killing the mice off is a cold, heavy rain to flood their nests in the ground.

Environment

Longer Pollen Season

Human-caused climate change has both worsened and lengthened pollen seasons across the U.S. and Canada, a new study reports.

Climate change has two broad effects, according to the study. First, it shifts pollen seasons earlier and lengthens their duration. Second, it increases the pollen concentrations in the air so pollen seasons are, on average, worse. The new research shows that pollen seasons start 20 days earlier, are 10 days longer and feature 21% more pollen than they did in 1990.

Environment

Carpets of Plastic Waste

Flooding has sent carpets of waste plastic down river into Hungary over the past few days, officials say, despite earlier pleas to its upstream neighbours Ukraine and Romania for an end to the pollution.

As of Monday, floating garbage disposal units have removed 500 cubic metres of waste from the Tisza and Szamos rivers. While much of the debris flowing downstream is organic when water levels rise, household waste, including slippers and even televisions, appears alongside the plastic bottles.

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Environment

The planet is dying faster than we thought

Humanity is barreling toward a “ghastly future” of mass extinctions, health crises and constant climate-induced disruptions to society — one that can only be prevented if world leaders start taking environmental threats seriously.

A eam of 17 researchers based in the United States, Mexico and Australia describes three major crises facing life on Earth: climate disruption, biodiversity decline and human overconsumption and overpopulation. Citing more than 150 studies, the team argues that these three crises — which are poised only to escalate in the coming decades — put Earth in a more precarious position than most people realize, and could even jeopardize the human race.

What will that future look like? Nature will be a lot lonelier. Since the start of agriculture 11,000 years ago, Earth has lost an estimated 50% of its terrestrial plants and roughly 20% of its animal biodiversity. If current trends continue, as many as 1 million of Earth’s 7 million to 10 million plant and animal species could face extinction in the near future.

Such an enormous loss of biodiversity would also disrupt every major ecosystem on the planet, with fewer insects to pollinate plants, fewer plants to filter the air, water and soil, and fewer forests to protect human settlements from floods and other natural disasters.

Meanwhile, those same phenomena that cause natural disasters are all predicted to become stronger and more frequent due to global climate change. Overpopulation will not make anything easier. By 2050, the world population will likely grow to ~9.9 billion. This booming growth will exacerbate societal problems like food insecurity, housing insecurity, joblessness, overcrowding and inequality.

Environment

Australia’s “dinosaur trees” afforded special status

A group of exceptionally rare wollemi pine trees in Australia’s Blue Mountains were officially designated an Asset of Intergenerational Significance by state authorities on Friday. Having narrowly avoided extinction during last summer’s bushfire crisis, the designation allows extra protection measures for the trees.

Prior to their discovery in 1994, wollemi pines were known only in fossil records, with evidence suggesting they existed up to 90 million years ago during the late-cretaceous period. The wollemi pines are often described as a living fossil, having been around when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Some of the adult trees are estimated to be up to 1,000 years old with their exact location kept secret from the public.

Wollemi pine

Environment

CO2 Fuel

Oxford University researchers say they have found a way to cheaply and simply convert the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into jet fuel. The technique uses heated citric acid, hydrogen and an iron-manganese-potassium catalyst to turn the CO2 into a fuel that would power jet aircraft. Even though the process would include capturing carbon emissions, the Oxford team says the process could be the most viable option for many commercial airline fleets to go carbon neutral until they can convert to electric propulsion or other greener options.

Environment

Magnetic Mystery

Scientists are struggling to understand a new weakening of Earth’s magnetic field in a region that stretches from South America to Africa and is causing technical problems in some of the satellites orbiting the planet.

The anomaly is allowing the inner Van Allen radiation belt to dip to an altitude of about 120 miles, sometimes exposing satellites to several minutes of higher-than-normal radiation. Astronauts have reported disturbances in their eyesight, known as cosmic ray visual phenomena, when passing through it.

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Massive Ozone Hole

The ozone hole in the stratosphere above Antarctica reached its annual peak on Oct. 1, which scientists say was the largest and deepest in 15 years. This was in contrast to an unusually small and short-lived ozone hole in 2019, caused by unusual weather conditions.

Environment

Bird Blackout

A New Zealand South Island village has switched off all of its streetlights in an attempt to stop young birds from crash-landing on roadways.

Wildlife experts say the Westland petrel fledglings are possibly mistaking the streetlights of Punakaiki for the bioluminescent fish they typically eat. The town hosts about 6,000 breeding pairs of the rare birds each March, which is celebrated with a festival.

But the introduction of blue-white LED lights last year has some local bird watchers believing that it’s confusing the seabirds even more than usual, causing them to crash onto roads and sometimes be struck by cars.

Environment

Human-made materials now outweigh Earth’s entire biomass

A research study has revealed that human-made materials outweighed the overall living biomass on Earth today.

The study, carried out by researchers to provide an objective measure of the reality of the balance between man and nature, estimated that the amount of plastic alone is greater in mass than all land animals and marine creatures combined.

Human activity including the production of concrete, metal, plastic, bricks and asphalt outweighs the overall living biomass on Earth, the study concluded.

A paper published in Nature stated that on average, each week, every person is responsible for the creation of human-made matter equal to more than their own bodyweight.

More Locusts

East African officials say weather conditions are now favorable for another wave of ravenous locusts to swarm across the region from the Red Sea to Kenya. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization also predicts fresh immature swarms will soon migrate southward to Ethiopia and Somalia before eventually invading northeastern Kenya.

These same areas were hit earlier this year by massive swarms that also originated around the Red Sea. Successive generations are still devouring grasslands, threatening food shortages and laying eggs.

Environment

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.

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Environment

Lofty Plastic

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.

Environment

Pervasive Plastic

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.

Environment

‘Rivers’ of Warm Air Melt Antarctic Ice

Strengthening rivers of relatively warm and moist air blowing southward from the middle latitudes are melting huge patches of sea ice around Antarctica, new research reveals.

Diana Francis at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi and her colleagues found that these atmospheric rivers are now making the storms that rage around Antarctica more powerful by fuelling them with more water vapour.

The storms help churn up nutrients for marine life. But when amplified by the atmospheric rivers, they accelerate climate change by breaking up the sea ice and opening up large patches of darker ocean water. These openings, known as polynyas, reflect less solar energy back into space than the white ice, allowing the water to heat up.

Environment

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.

Environment

Fukushima Warming

Plans to dump more than a million tons of contaminated water from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster into the ocean are being highly criticized. Greenpeace warns in a report that the water stored after the 2011 meltdowns at the facility has such high levels of the isotope carbon-14 that it could damage human DNA if released into the Pacific. The move has also been strongly opposed by local fishermen. The Greenpeace report says that carbon-14 has a half-life of 5,370 years and would become “incorporated into all living matter” over time if released into the wild. But Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says the dumping can’t be postponed forever.