Pollution

Anthropogenic dust found to have long-rangimg impacts to oceans
May 17, 2016 09:47 AM - Georgia Institute of Technology via ScienceDaily

As climatologists closely monitor the impact of human activity on the world's oceans, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have found yet another worrying trend impacting the health of the Pacific Ocean.

A new modeling study conducted by researchers in Georgia Tech's School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences shows that for decades, air pollution drifting from East Asia out over the world's largest ocean has kicked off a chain reaction that contributed to oxygen levels falling in tropical waters thousands of miles away.

"There's a growing awareness that oxygen levels in the ocean may be changing over time," said Taka Ito, an associate professor at Georgia Tech. "One reason for that is the warming environment -- warm water holds less gas. But in the tropical Pacific, the oxygen level has been falling at a much faster rate than the temperature change can explain."

The study, which was published May 16 in Nature Geoscience, was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, a Georgia Power Faculty Scholar Chair and a Cullen-Peck Faculty Fellowship.

In the report, the researchers describe how air pollution from industrial activities had raised levels of iron and nitrogen -- key nutrients for marine life -- in the ocean off the coast of East Asia. Ocean currents then carried the nutrients to tropical regions, where they were consumed by photosynthesizing phytoplankton.

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A Major Source of Air Pollution: Farms
May 16, 2016 07:05 PM - Earth Institute, Columbia University

A new study says that emissions from farms outweigh all other human sources of fine-particulate air pollution in much of the United States, Europe, Russia and China. The culprit: fumes from nitrogen-rich fertilizers and animal waste that combine in the air with industrial emissions to form solid particles—a huge source of disease and death. The good news: if industrial emissions decline in coming decades, as most projections say, fine-particle pollution will go down even if fertilizer use doubles as expected. The study appears this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Agricultural air pollution comes mainly in the form of ammonia, which enters the air as a gas from heavily fertilized fields and livestock waste. It then combines with pollutants from combustion—mainly nitrogen oxides and sulfates from vehicles, power plants and industrial processes—to create tiny solid particles, or aerosols, no more than 2.5 micrometers across, about 1/30 the width of a human hair. The particles can penetrate deep into lungs, causing heart or pulmonary disease; a 2015 study in the journal Nature estimates they cause at least 3.3 million deaths each year globally.

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SPOTLIGHT

Did early agriculture stave off global cooling?

Fairs Samara, University of Virginia

A new analysis of ice-core climate data, archeological evidence and ancient pollen samples strongly suggests that agriculture by humans 7,000 years ago likely slowed a natural cooling process of the global climate, playing a role in the relatively warmer climate we experience today.

A study detailing the findings is published online in a recent edition of the journal Reviews of Geophysics, published by the American Geophysical Union.

“Early farming helped keep the planet warm,” said William Ruddiman, a University of Virginia climate scientist and lead author of the study, who specializes in investigating ocean sediment and ice-core records for evidence of climate fluctuations.

A dozen years ago, Ruddiman hypothesized that early humans altered the climate by burning massive areas of forests to clear the way for crops and livestock grazing. The resulting carbon dioxide and methane released into the atmosphere had a warming effect that “cancelled most or all of a natural cooling that should have occurred,” he said.

That idea, which came to be known as the “early anthropogenic hypothesis” was hotly debated for years by climate scientists, and is still considered debatable by some of these scientists. 

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