Sustainability

USGS study shows why some chemicals bio-accumulate and others don't
April 20, 2016 11:19 AM - USGS Newsroom

Researchers have figured out what makes certain chemicals accumulate to toxic levels in aquatic food webs. And, scientists have developed a screening technique to determine which chemicals pose the greatest risk to the environment.

According to the study led by the U.S. Geological Survey, two traits were identified that indicate how chemicals can build up and reach toxic levels:  how easily a chemical is broken down or metabolized by an organism and the chemical’s ability to dissolve in water.

These traits account for how most chemicals concentrate, or biomagnify, in ever-higher levels as one goes up the food chain from its base to its top predators, such as fish, people, or polar bears. Chemicals that have the ability to biomagnify, such as DDT, can have adverse effects on human and wildlife health and the environment. 

 

Is your home making you sick?
April 20, 2016 06:40 AM - University of Surrey

New research in the journal Science of the Total Environment has highlighted the dangerous effects of indoor pollution on human health, and has called for policies to ensure closer monitoring of air quality.

A collaborative effort of European, Australian and UK researchers, led by the University of Surrey,  assessed the harmful effects of indoor pollution in order to make recommendations on how best to monitor and negate these outcomes.

Dr Prashant Kumar of the University of Surrey explained, “When we think of the term ‘air pollution’ we tend to think of car exhausts or factory fumes expelling grey smoke. However, there are actually various sources of pollution that have a negative effect on air quality, many of which are found inside our homes and offices. From cooking residue to paints, varnishes and fungal spores the air we breathe indoors is often more polluted than that outside.”

Microbots Could Play Key Role in Cleaning Up Our Water Systems
April 18, 2016 06:56 AM - Lizabeth Paulat, Care2

What if we could not only clean up the heavy metals in our water systems, but also recycle those metals and reuse them?

A new study from the Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany and the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia in Spain suggests that, soon, we might be doing just that.

Shift in global winds caused record flooding in the Balkans
April 17, 2016 07:40 AM - Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) via ScienceDaily

Disastrous floods in the Balkans two years ago are likely linked to the temporary slowdown of giant airstreams, scientists found. These wind patterns, circling the globe in the form of huge waves between the Equator and the North Pole, normally move eastwards, but practically stopped for several days then -- at the same time, a weather system got stuck over Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia that poured out record amounts of rain. The study adds evidence that so-called planetary wave resonance is a key mechanism for causing extreme weather events in summer. Further, the scientists showed that extreme rainfall events are strongly increasing in the Balkans, even more than the globally observed rise.

"We were surprised to see how long the weather system that led to the flooding stayed over the region -- it's like the Vb cyclone 'Yvette' was trapped there," says Lisa Stadtherr from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), lead-author of the study to be published in Science Advances. "Day after day the rain was soaking the soil until it was saturated, which lead to the flooding that reportedly caused several dozen casualties and 3.5 billion Euro of damages."

 

Study shows most US roofs can support a solar system
April 14, 2016 07:40 AM - Sandia National Laboratories.

Most U.S. rooftops in good repair can take the weight of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. That’s the conclusion of a three-year study by a research team led by Sandia National Laboratories.

“There is a misperception in the building industry that existing residential rooftops lack the strength to carry the weight load of rooftop solar photovoltaic installations,” said Sandia structural engineer Steve Dwyer. “Most existing well-built wooden rooftops can support PV system loads.”

Sandia took on the job of analyzing rooftop structural strength to address concerns raised in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Solar America Cities program. The agency named 25 cities to promote adoption of solar technology at a comprehensive, local level through photovoltaics.

 

The Paris climate accord looks promising
April 12, 2016 08:04 PM - Robert N. Stavins, Director, Harvard Environmental Economics Program

The climate talks that concluded last December were a great success, but it will be decades before we can judge whether the Paris Agreement itself is ultimately successful. What can be said is that the accord provides a good foundation for meaningful progress on climate change, and represents a dramatic departure from the past 20 years of climate negotiations.

I have long viewed the dichotomous distinction between Annex I and non–Annex I countries in the Kyoto Protocol as the major stumbling block to progress. The protocol included mandatory emissions-reduction obligations for developed countries, but none for developing countries. That made progress impossible, because significant growth in emissions since the protocol came into force in 2005 has been entirely in the large developing countries — China, India, Brazil, South Korea, South Africa, Mexico, and Indonesia.

 

Reducing food waste could help mitigate climate change
April 11, 2016 07:33 AM - Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

About a tenth of overall global greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture could be traced back to food waste by mid-century, a new study shows. A team from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research for the first time provides comprehensive food loss projections for countries around the world while also calculating the associated emissions. Currently, one third of global food production never finds its way onto our plates. This share will increase drastically, if emerging countries like China and India adopt Western nutrition lifestyles, the analyses shows. Reducing food waste would offer the chance to ensure food security, which is well known. Yet at the same time it could help mitigate dangerous climate change.

Rising oceans may pose a bigger threat than previously assumed
April 9, 2016 09:34 AM - Pete Dolack, The Ecologist

Of all the impacts of climate change, one stands out for its inexorable menace, writes Pete Dolack: rising oceans. And it's not just for distant future generations to deal with: new scientific studies show that people alive today may face 6-9 metres of sea level rise flooding well over a million sq.km including many of the world's biggest cities. So where's the emergency response?

There is a possibility, a real danger, that we will hand young people and future generations a climate system that is practically out of their control. We have a global emergency.

When it comes to global warming, what else don't we know?

 

Good news for the Iberian lynx!
April 6, 2016 09:04 AM - World Wildlife Federation

WWF welcomes the 2015 Iberian lynx census released today by the government of Andalusia. The survey shows a significant increase in population with the Iberian lynx reaching the highest number since the species was found to be the most endangered cat in the world in 2002.
 
The latest population figure of 404 individuals is up from the 327 recorded in 2014. The survey identified 120 breeding females divided into five areas of the Iberian Peninsula including four in Spain – Doñana, Sierra Morena, Montes de Toledo, Valley Matachel – as well as Portugal’s Vale do Guadiana.
 
 

Can urban gardeners benefit ecosystems while keeping food traditions alive?
April 6, 2016 06:51 AM - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

When conjuring up an image of a healthy ecosystem, few of us would think of a modern city. But scientists are increasingly recognizing that the majority of ecosystems are now influenced by humans, and even home gardens in urban landscapes can contribute important ecosystem services.

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