Pollution

Quantifying Tree Loss in Sierra National Forest
July 20, 2016 10:37 AM - NASA Earth Observatory

Mass tree die-offs are sparking worries of fire in California’s Sierra Nevada range. An outbreak of bark beetles, along with persistent drought in the state, have caused many evergreen trees to wither and die.

The damage spread rapidly through the mountains in the fall of 2015 after favorable spring conditions (warm and dry) led to a surge in beetle populations, according to Zach Tane, a remote sensing analyst with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The beetles burrow under a tree’s bark and lay their eggs. Once they penetrate the tree’s armor (the bark), they begin to gnaw into its living tissue, the phloem.

“Needles don’t turn red the next day. It’s a slow process of the tree dying, and it has to do with life cycle of bark beetle and how long needles can persist in a green state,” said Tane. “As the population of beetles grows, they can overwhelm the natural defenses of a tree. There’s a tipping point—that’s what happened in Colorado and probably what’s happening here.”

NASA science flights target melting Arctic Sea ice
July 19, 2016 05:22 PM - NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center via ScienceDaily

This summer, with sea ice across the Arctic Ocean shrinking to below-average levels, a NASA airborne survey of polar ice just completed its first flights. Its target: aquamarine pools of melt water on the ice surface that may be accelerating the overall sea ice retreat.

NASA's Operation IceBridge completed the first research flight of its new 2016 Arctic summer campaign on July 13. The science flights, which continue through July 25, are collecting data on sea ice in a year following a record-warm winter in the Arctic.

The summer flights will map the extent, frequency and depth of melt ponds, the pools of melt water that form on sea ice during spring and summer. Recent studies have found that the formation of melt ponds early in the summer is a good predictor of the sea ice yearly minimum extent in September: if there are more ponds on the ice earlier in the melt season, they reduce the ability of sea ice to reflect solar radiation, which leads to more melt.

2016 climate trends continue to break records
July 19, 2016 04:44 PM - NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center via ScienceDaily

Two key climate change indicators -- global surface temperatures and Arctic sea ice extent -- have broken numerous records through the first half of 2016, according to NASA analyses of ground-based observations and satellite data.

Each of the first six months of 2016 set a record as the warmest respective month globally in the modern temperature record, which dates to 1880, according to scientists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. The six-month period from January to June was also the planet's warmest half-year on record, with an average temperature 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.4 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than the late nineteenth century.

Five of the first six months of 2016 also set records for the smallest respective monthly Arctic sea ice extent since consistent satellite records began in 1979, according to analyses developed by scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland. The one exception, March, recorded the second smallest extent for that month.

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.

Ship engine emissions adversely affect macrophages
July 19, 2016 11:00 AM - Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Environmental Health via EurekAlert!

In cooperation with colleagues of the University of Rostock, the University of Luxembourg, the Max Delbrueck Center for Molecular Medicine, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the University of Eastern Finland, the Munich Scientists have now published the results in the journal PLOS ONE. In 2015 they already showed that exposure to particle emissions from heavy fuel oil (HFO) and diesel fuel (DF) adversely affects human lung cells and is responsible for strong biological responses of the cells ("How Ship Emissions Adversely Affect Lung Cells"). For example, inflammatory processes are triggered that may influence the development of interstitial lung diseases. Now the team led by Professor Ralf Zimmermann has found in further studies that macrophages are also influenced by the exhaust gases. These are much more sensitive than lung epithelial cells and therefore react more strongly to exposure. Zimmermann is speaker of the international consortium Helmholtz Virtual Institute of Complex Molecular Systems in Environmental Health (HICE), head of the cooperation group Comprehensive Molecular Analytics (CMA) at Helmholtz Zentrum Muenchen and head of the Department of Analytical Chemistry at the University of Rostock.

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.

A battery inspired by vitamins
July 18, 2016 03:12 PM - John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences via EurekAlert!

Harvard researchers have identified a whole new class of high-performing organic molecules, inspired by vitamin B2, that can safely store electricity from intermittent energy sources like solar and wind power in large batteries.

The development builds on previous work in which the team developed a high-capacity flow battery that stored energy in organic molecules called quinones and a food additive called ferrocyanide. That advance was a game-changer, delivering the first high-performance, non-flammable, non-toxic, non-corrosive, and low-cost chemicals that could enable large-scale, inexpensive electricity storage.

While the versatile quinones show great promise for flow batteries, Harvard researchers continued to explore other organic molecules in pursuit of even better performance. But finding that same versatility in other organic systems has been challenging.

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.

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