Sustainability

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.

Alaska's shorebirds exposed to mercury
July 13, 2016 10:07 AM - Central Ornithology Publication Office via EurekAlert!

Shorebirds breeding in Alaska are being exposed to mercury at levels that could put their populations at risk, according to new research from The Condor: Ornithological Applications.

Thanks to atmospheric circulation and other factors, the mercury that we deposit into the environment tends to accumulate in the Arctic. Mercury exposure can reduce birds' reproductive success and sometimes even be lethal. Shorebirds may be particularly vulnerable because they forage in aquatic environments where mercury is converted into methylmercury, its most dangerous form. Marie Perkins of the Biodiversity Research Institute (BRI) and her colleagues investigated the level of mercury in Alaska's shorebirds and found that some birds breeding near Barrow, at the state's northern end, have mercury concentrations upwards of two micrograms per gram of blood.

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."

Ice algae: The engine of life in the central Arctic Ocean
July 12, 2016 10:35 AM - Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research via EurekAlert!

Algae that live in and under the sea ice play a much greater role for the Arctic food web than previously assumed. In a new study, biologists of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) showed that not only animals that live directly under the ice thrive on carbon produced by so-called ice algae. Even species that mostly live at greater depth depend to a large extent on carbon from these algae. This also means that the decline of the Arctic sea ice may have far-reaching consequences for the entire food web of the Arctic Ocean. Their results have been published online now in the journal Limnology & Oceanography.

The summer sea ice in the Arctic is diminishing at a rapid pace and with it the habitat of ice algae. The consequences of this decline for the Arctic ecosystem are difficult to predict. Scientists of the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research showed the significance of ice algae for the Arctic food web in this context. "A number of studies have already speculated that ice algae are an important energy source for the polar ecosystems. We have now been able to show that not only animals associated with ice meet the majority of their carbon needs from ice algae, but that, surprisingly, so do species that mostly live at greater depths," says lead author Doreen Kohlbach.

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.

Horrible algae bloom in Florida blamed on the government
July 10, 2016 09:12 AM - Greg Allen/NPR

About a hundred miles north of Miami on the Atlantic Coast, the town of Stuart is a picturesque waterfront community — with homes, restaurants and parks overlooking the St. Lucie Estuary. But in many areas now, when you approach the water, the first thing you notice is the smell.

"There's no way to describe it," says John Skinner, a boat salesman in Stuart.

But he still tries. "I would say hundreds of dead animals that have been baking in the sun for weeks."

 

Insect populations in sharp decline
July 7, 2016 11:11 AM - christian schwägerl, Yale Environment360

Every spring since 1989, entomologists have set up tents in the meadows and woodlands of the Orbroicher Bruch nature reserve and 87 other areas in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The tents act as insect traps and enable the scientists to calculate how many bugs live in an area over a full summer period. Recently, researchers presented the results of their work to parliamentarians from the German Bundestag, and the findings were alarming: The average biomass of insects caught between May and October has steadily decreased from 1.6 kilograms (3.5 pounds) per trap in 1989 to just 300 grams (10.6 ounces) in 2014. 

"The decline is dramatic and depressing and it affects all kinds of insects, including butterflies, wild bees, and hoverflies," says Martin Sorg, an entomologist from the Krefeld Entomological Association involved in running the monitoring project. 
 

The Antarctic Ozone Hole May Be Closing
July 7, 2016 07:21 AM - s.e. smith

There’s good news from Antarctica, where researchers with tools like ozonesondes — pictured above — have been following the infamous ozone hole as it waxes and wanes over the seasons. The ozone hole has shrunk by 1.5 million square miles – around 4 million square kilometers — and this “healing” trend appears to be continuing.

A major ecological catastrophe has been averted, and we can cite human intervention as the reason. When the globe swept into action with 1987′s Montreal Protocol, which banned a number of substances known to contribute to ozone depletion, it apparently worked.

When scientists first began to observe a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica, it was a cause for grave concern. Though ozone levels actually fluctuate throughout the year, they perform an important function by blocking the sun’s harmful UV radiation.

Discovery could dramatically boost efficiency of perovskite solar cells
July 4, 2016 01:26 PM - Doe/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory via EurekAlert!

Scientists from the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have discovered a possible secret to dramatically boosting the efficiency of perovskite solar cells hidden in the nanoscale peaks and valleys of the crystalline material.

Solar cells made from compounds that have the crystal structure of the mineral perovskite have captured scientists' imaginations. They're inexpensive and easy to fabricate, like organic solar cells. Even more intriguing, the efficiency at which perovskite solar cells convert photons to electricity has increased more rapidly than any other material to date, starting at three percent in 2009 -- when researchers first began exploring the material's photovoltaic capabilities -- to 22 percent today. This is in the ballpark of the efficiency of silicon solar cells.

The Future of Cities is Bright
July 4, 2016 10:46 AM - Tim Fleming, Triple Pundit

What does the “city of the future” look like?

In an era of rapid technological advancement and increasing urbanization, it’s a fair question. Eighty percent of the U.S. population already lives in large cities* – each with a smartphone, wearable or other device in hand.

As such, city officials are beginning to piece together how those bits of technology can connect with assets like energy meters, garbage cans, street lights, traffic lights, water pipes and more. But, how do we make it all work together? By building a truly smart city.

A truly smart city is one with seamless connectivity that solves local problems and provides its inhabitants with safety, cleanliness and the most efficient ways to get from Point A to Point B. It’s a city that optimizes how we use valuable resources to help improve quality of life, positively impact our planet and open new economic opportunities. A truly smart city provides tremendous opportunities for its citizens and beyond.

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