Sustainability

Birds on top of the world, with nowhere to go
July 20, 2016 10:57 AM - University of Queensland via EurekAlert!

Climate change could make much of the Arctic unsuitable for millions of migratory birds that travel north to breed each year, according to a new international study published today inGlobal Change Biology.

The University of Queensland School of Biological Sciences' researcher Hannah Wauchope said that suitable breeding conditions for Arctic shorebirds could collapse by 2070.

"This means that countries throughout the world will have fewer migratory birds reaching their shores," Ms Wauchope said.

Arctic breeding shorebirds undertake some of the longest known migratory journeys in the animal kingdom, with many travelling more than 20,000 kilometres per year to escape the northern winter.

The bar-tailed godwit flies from Alaska to New Zealand in a single flight of 12,000 kilometres without landing.

The study predicts that, in a warming world, migratory birds will become increasingly restricted to small islands in the Arctic Ocean as they retreat north.

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.

Trees rely on a range of strategies to hunt for nutrient hot spots
July 18, 2016 03:59 PM - Penn State via EurekAlert!

On the surface, trees may look stationary, but underground their roots -- aided by their fungal allies -- are constantly on the hunt and using a surprising number of strategies to find food, according to an international team of researchers.

The precision of the nutrient-seeking strategies that help trees grow in temperate forests may be related to the thickness of the trees' roots and the type of fungi they use, according to David Eissenstat, professor of woody plant physiology, Penn State. The tree must use a variety of strategies because nutrients often collect in pockets -- or hot spots -- in the soil, he added.

"What we found is that different species get nutrients in different ways and that depends both on that species' type of root -- whether it's thin or thick -- and that species' type of mycorrhizal fungi, which is a symbiotic fungus," said Eissenstat. "What we show is that you really can't understand this process without thinking about the roots and the mycorrhizal fungi together."

Tree species with thicker roots -- for example, the tulip poplar and pine - avoid actively seeking nutrient hot spots and instead send out more permanent, longer-lasting roots. On the other hand, some trees with thinner roots search for nutrients by selectively growing roots that are more temporary, or by using their fungal allies to find hot spots.

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.

New discoveries about photosynthesis may lead to solar cells of the future
July 18, 2016 11:01 AM - Lund University via EurekAlert!

For the first time, researchers have successfully measured in detail the flow of solar energy, in and between different parts of a photosynthetic organism. The result is a first step in research that could ultimately contribute to the development of technologies that use solar energy far more efficiently than what is currently possible.

For about 80 years, researchers have known that photochemical reactions inside an organism do not occur in the same place as where it absorbs sunlight. What has not been known, however, is how and along what routes the solar energy is transported into the photosynthetic organism -- until now.

"Not even the best solar cells that we as humans are capable of producing can be compared to what nature performs in the first stages of energy conversion. That is why new knowledge about photosynthesis will become useful for the development of future solar technologies", says Donatas Zigmantas, Faculty of Science at Lund University, Sweden.

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