Environmental Policy

Using urban pigeons to monitor lead pollution
July 19, 2016 02:02 PM - University of California – Davis via EurekAlert!

Tom Lehrer sang about poisoning them, but those pigeons in the park might be a good way to detect lead and other toxic compounds in cities. A new study of pigeons in New York City shows that levels of lead in the birds track with neighborhoods where children show high levels of lead exposure.

"Pigeons breathe the same air, walk the same sidewalks, and often eat the same food as we do. What if we could use them to monitor possible dangers to our health in the environment, like lead pollution?" said Rebecca Calisi, now an assistant professor in the Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior at the University of California, Davis, who conducted the study with undergraduate student Fayme Cai while at Barnard College, Columbia University. The work is published July 18 in the journal Chemosphere.

Decades after it was banned from paint and gasoline, lead pollution remains a significant concern. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene carries out routine screening of children in areas of the city identified as hot spots for lead contamination.

Offshore wind powers ahead as prices drop 30% below nuclear
July 19, 2016 09:30 AM - Kieran Cooke, The Ecologist

The cost of offshore wind power in the North Sea is 30% lower than that of new nuclear, writes Kieran Cooke - helped along by low oil and steel prices, reduced maintenance and mass production. By 2030 the sector is expected to supply 7% of Europe's electricity. Output from the Dogger Bank project will be 1.2 GW (gigawatts) - enough to power more than a million homes. Next year, a 150-turbine wind farm off the coast of the Netherlands is due to start operating, and other schemes along the Dutch coast are in the works. Denmark, Sweden and Portugal are major investors in offshore wind, and China has ambitious plans for the sector. Wind farms - both onshore and offshore - are a key ingredient in renewable energy policy, and an important element in the battle against climate change. WindEurope, an offshore wind industry group, says that at the present rate of installations it's likely Europe will be producing about 7% of its electricity from offshore wind by 2030.

Offshore wind developers benefit from falling costs

By some calculations, all this building work would seem to make little economic sense. Fossil fuel prices are low on the world market, and constructing offshore wind farms several kilometres out at sea, in often treacherous conditions, has traditionally been an expensive business.

Calcification: Does it pay off in the future ocean?
July 15, 2016 03:13 PM - University of Southampton via ScienceDaily

An international research team has calculated the costs and benefits of calcification for phytoplankton and the impact of climate change on their important role in the world's oceans.

Single-celled phytoplankton play an important role in marine biogeochemical cycling, in marine food webs and in the global climate system. Coccolithophores are a particular group that cover themselves with calcium carbonate shields, known as coccoliths. Some wrap themselves in an impenetrable coat of coccoliths, some make coccoliths in the form of sharp spikes, some use them as parasols against the sun and some form funnel-shaped light collectors.

But this requires a lot of energy -- and the price for the artful armour could rise further due to global change. With the help of a new model, the researchers analysed the energetic costs and benefits of calcification. The results, published in the current issue of the journal Science Advances, suggest that the ecological niche for calcifying algae will become narrower in the future.

Solar on the best UK sites is competitive with cheap coal
July 15, 2016 02:18 PM - Chris Goodall, The Ecologist

Last week a massive 350-hectare open cast coal mine at Druridge Bay won planning permission. This got Chris Goodall wondering: what if the land was turned into a solar farm instead? His surprise discovery: solar power on England's south coast already costs no more than coal - and it's only getting cheaper.

A week ago Northumberland council gave planning permission to a new open-cast coal mine at Druridge on the coastline just north of Newcastle.

About 3 million tonnes of coal will be extracted over a five to seven-year period from an area of around 350 hectares, including storage space. (350 hectares is about 1.4 square miles)

The environmental objections to the plan are striking. For example, the owners predict about 170 HGV movements a day along local roads during the whole lifetime of the project. The landscape impact is also severe although the developers say they will ensure that the local sandy beaches are unaffected.

Why Are There Frogs With Extra Limbs and Missing Eyes in Australia?
July 15, 2016 10:32 AM - Jessica Ramos, Care2

There’s something strange happening in Queensland, Australia: the frog populations are dropping like flies and frog deformities are on the rise. One frog doctor (yes, that’s a legitimate thing) blames insecticides, particularly neonicotinoids. The problem is that no one from the academic community or government is taking these issues seriously.

Deborah Pergolotti runs the Cairns Frog Safe project — Australia’s only hospital that serves frog patients — and she’s witnessing disturbing trends. Pergolotti told the Guardian there has been a 95% decline in the Cairns frog population over the last 17 years. Coincidentally, neonicotinoids were first introduced in Australia in 1996 — just three years prior to the decline that Pergolotti cites.

At this point, Pergolotti can only speculate because no one has been looking into the toxicology. “If somebody would get around to doing the toxicology for it, then maybe we might get some proof, but nobody’s interested in the toxicology,” she tells the Guardian.

Ocean warming primary cause of Antarctic Peninsula glacier retreat
July 14, 2016 03:37 PM - British Antarctic Survey via EurekAlert!

A new study has found for the first time that ocean warming is the primary cause of retreat of glaciers on the western Antarctic Peninsula. The Peninsula is one of the largest current contributors to sea-level rise and this new finding will enable researchers to make better predictions of ice loss from this region.

The research, by scientists at Swansea University and British Antarctic Survey, is published in the journal Science today (Friday, July 15). The study reports that glaciers flowing to the coast on the western side of the Peninsula show a distinct spatial correlation with ocean temperature patterns, with those in the south retreating rapidly but those in the north showing little change. Some 90% of the 674 glaciers in this region have retreated since records began in the 1940s.

Rising sea levels will change the ecology of the Everglades
July 14, 2016 09:19 AM - CHRISTOPHER JOYCE, NPR

The Florida Everglades is a swampy wilderness the size of Delaware. In some places along the road in southern Florida, it looks like tall saw grass to the horizon, a prairie punctuated with a few twisted cypress trees. The sky is the palest blue.

But beneath the surface a different story is unfolding. Because of climate change and sea level rise, the ocean is starting to seep into the swampland. If the invasion grows worse, it could drastically change the Everglades, and a way of life for millions of residents in South Florida.

Solar panels study reveals impact on Earth
July 13, 2016 01:55 PM - Lancaster University via ScienceDaily

Researchers have produced the first detailed study of the impact of solar parks on the environment, opening the door to smarter forms of farming and better land management.

Environmental Scientists at Lancaster University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology monitored a large solar park, near Swindon, for a year.

They found that solar parks altered the local climate, measuring cooling of as much as 5 degrees Centigrade under the panels during the summer but the effects varied depending on the time of year and the time of day.

As climate controls biological processes, such as plant growth rates, this is really important information and can help understand how best to manage solar parks so they have environmental benefits in addition to supplying low carbon energy.

Weathered oil from DW Horizon spill may threaten fish embryos and larvae development
July 12, 2016 04:03 PM - Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

A research team led by scientists at the University of California, Riverside and the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science have found that ultraviolet light is changing the structure of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil components into something more toxic, further threatening numerous commercially and ecologically important fishes. The DWH oil spill, in which more than three million barrels of crude oil got released in 2010 into the northern Gulf of Mexico, is the worst oil disaster in US history, contaminating the spawning habitats for many fishes.

"Ours is the first experiment evaluating the effects of DWH oil on the genetic responses of mahi-mahi embryos and larvae," said Daniel Schlenk, a professor of aquatic ecotoxicology, who led the study published in Environmental Science and Technology. "It is also the first experiment of this nature on a lifestage and species that was likely exposed to the oil. We found that the weathering of oil had more significant changes in gene expression related to critical functions in the embryos and larvae than the un-weathered oil. Our results predict that there are multiple targets of oil for toxicity to this species at the embryonic life stage."

Regulating particulate pollution
July 12, 2016 07:16 AM - Nancy W. Stauffer, MIT Energy Initiative

An MIT analysis of how best to reduce fine particulate matter in the atmosphere has brought some surprising results. Due to past regulations, levels of key emissions that form those harmful particles are now lower than they were a decade ago, causing some experts to suggest that cutting them further might have little effect. Not true, concludes the MIT study. Using an atmospheric model, the researchers found that new policies to restrict the same emissions would be even more effective now than they were in the past. Further analysis elucidated the chemical processes — some unexpected — that explain their findings. Their results demonstrate the importance of tailoring air pollution policies to specific situations and of addressing a variety of emissions in a coordinated way.

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