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.

Environment

USA Dust Bowl Repeat

A new study finds dust levels are rising in the American Great Plains due to farming practices and climate trends that scientists say are reminiscent of the lead-up to the 1930s Dust Bowl period.

The University of Utah research finds that the amount of dust has risen up to 5% per year, which coincides with the expansion of cropland and seasonal crop cycles. Writing in Geophysical Research Letters, the scientists suggest farming practices could now be exposing more soil to wind erosion, albeit much less than when 1920s Midwestern farmers were tilling the topsoil with mechanical plows. This led to the Dust Bowl after severe drought struck.

Environment

Fracking Fallout

A new Harvard study finds that there are significantly elevated levels of airborne radioactive particles up to 31 miles downwind of U.S. fracking sites.

Using 16 years of data from 157 federal radiation monitoring stations, researchers found that sites with 100 fracking wells within 12 miles upwind had an average of about 7% more radiation in the air.

The highest contamination was near the Marcellus and Utica shale fields in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where radioactivity was 40% higher than normal.

While conventional oil and gas drilling doesn’t result in much impact on underground rocks that contain uranium isotopes, hydraulic fracturing blasts through shale and other layers containing them. Scientists say the resulting radioactive particles are carried downwind.

Environment

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.

Environment

Plants in Peril

Almost 40% of Earth’s plant species are now at risk of extinction due to human activities, according to Britain’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Its latest annual report on the state of the world’s plants and fungi says more than twice as many plants are at risk than previously thought. It points to agriculture and aquaculture threatening a third of the plants at risk, while climate change appears to threaten only about 4%. The Kew researchers say some of the plants in danger hold great promise for medicine, fuel and food.

Environment

La Niña Emerges

Sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Pacific have cooled to the point in recent weeks that weather agencies have officially recognized the phenomenon as a new La Niña. The opposite of an El Niño, La Niña also develops about every three to five years with its own set of weather disruptions, including the chance of more and stronger tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin.

It also can bring wetter weather to northern Australia, Indonesia and the Philippines, along with drier weather for western South America and cooler-than-normal temperatures for western Africa. NOAA predicts the new La Niña has a 75% chance of persisting into next year.

Environment

Plastic Soils

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.

Environment

Arctic Polluters

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.