Top Stories

The Looming Threat of Water Scarcity

Some 1.2 billion people—almost a fifth of the world—live in areas of physical water scarcity, while another 1.6 billion face what can be called economic water shortage. The situation is only expected to worsen as population growth, climate change, investment and management shortfalls, and inefficient use of existing resources restrict the amount of water available to people, according to Worldwatch Institute’s Vital Signs Online service (www.worldwatch.org). It is estimated that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, with almost half of the world living in conditions of water stress. Water scarcity has several definitions. Physical scarcity occurs when there is not enough water to meet demand; its symptoms include severe environmental degradation, declining groundwater, and unequal water distribution. Economic water scarcity occurs when there is a lack of investment and proper management to meet the demand of people who do not have the financial means to use existing water sources; the symptoms in this case normally include poor infrastructure.Large parts of Africa suffer from economic water scarcity. >> Read the Full Article

The Red-Dead water conveyer can avoid a dead end

The Red-Dead canal could take a small step forward in light of projected environmental impacts and other constraints, says Batir Wardam. After a delay of more than six months, the World Bank has finally released the final drafts of the feasibility and environmental assessment studies for the controversial Red Sea-Dead Sea Water Conveyance project, designed to channel some 1.2 billion cubic metres of water 180 kilometres from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. >> Read the Full Article

America has a Horsemeat Problem too

Few Americans are aware that their country's horses are being exported and slaughtered abroad - often in appalling conditions - to supply European taste for a meat that's shunned at home. Andrew Wasley reports. Herded down a concrete shute, the horses -- black and brown and grey; fat, healthy, thin, lame -- have little idea of the fate that awaits them. But one by one, the horses are separated from those behind, a metal trapdoor swinging down to confine each to a metal box. There's blood and filth on the walls and floor. Flies buzz. >> Read the Full Article

The First Oxygen Poor World Ocean

A research team led by biogeochemists at the University of California, Riverside has filled in a billion-year gap in our understanding of conditions in the early ocean during a critical time in the history of life on Earth. Over time, the planet cooled and formed a solid crust, allowing liquid water to exist on the surface. The first life forms appeared between 3.8 and 3.5 billion years ago. Photosynthetic life appeared around 2 billion years ago, enriching the atmosphere with oxygen. Life remained mostly small and microscopic until about 580 million years ago, when complex multicellular life arose. It is now well accepted that appreciable oxygen first accumulated in the atmosphere about 2.4 to 2.3 billion years ago. It is equally well accepted that the build-up of oxygen in the ocean may have lagged the atmospheric increase by well over a billion years, but the details of those conditions have long been elusive because of the patchiness of the ancient rock record. >> Read the Full Article

Celebrate World Water Day by Reducing Your Water Use

The United States is one of the world's biggest users of water—many Americans use as much water as approximately 900 Kenyans. As a result, water resources in the U.S. are shrinking. In the last five years, there have been water shortages in almost every part of the country, including the worst drought in at least 25 years, which hit 80 percent of the country's farmland in 2012. Even worse, the damaged land won’t fully recover this year, and at least 36 states are expecting local, regional, or statewide water shortages, even without drought. The Natural Resources Defense Council expects water scarcity to affect the American South, West, and Midwest the most. Fourteen states in these regions already have "extreme" or "high" risk of water scarcity. Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Nevada, and Texas face the most danger because they are expected to see some of the largest increases in population by 2030. Water scarcity is about more than lack of water, it's about lack of drinkable water. >> Read the Full Article

Vitamin E to the Rescue

Vitamin E refers to a group of eight fat-soluble compounds that include both tocopherols and tocotrienols. Of the many different forms of vitamin E, γ-tocopherol is the most common in the North American diet. γ-Tocopherol can be found in corn oil, soybean oil, margarine and dressings. Researchers have identified an elusive anti-cancer property of vitamin E that has long been presumed to exist, but difficult to find. Many animal studies have suggested that vitamin E could prevent cancer, but human clinical trials following up on those findings have not shown the same benefits. >> Read the Full Article

Genetic Study of Brown Bear Population Reveals Remarkable Similarities to Polar Bears

A new genetic study of polar bears and brown bears led by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz has overturned prevailing ideas about the evolutionary history of the two species. Brown bears and polar bears are closely related and known to produce fertile ursid hybrids. Previous studies suggested that past hybridization had resulted in all polar bears having genes that came from brown bears. But new research indicates that episodes of gene flow between the two species occurred only in isolated populations and did not affect the larger polar bear population, which remains free of brown bear genes. >> Read the Full Article

Solar Power close to Cost Parity with other Energy Sources

They said it couldn’t be done. They tried to tell us that renewable energy could only survive if it were propped up with government subsidies. Never mind that our whole system of economic development, beginning with the patent office, is predicated on the idea that fledgling, underfunded industries need special protection for a limited time until they are strong enough to go it alone. Never mind that the fossil fuel industry, which can hardly be considered fledgling or underfunded, is still receiving billions in taxpayer subsidies. But like the little engine that could, or the middle aged rock star that, after twenty years of struggling in sleazy dives has suddenly become an overnight sensation, solar power, having now surpassed the 100 GW threshold, has finally arrived and is good to go, in many places, without subsidies. >> Read the Full Article

Endangered Species Trade Update

Elephants, rhinos, sharks, tigers, lizards, crocodiles, turtles, snakes, monkeys, various birds and plants all made an appearance on the agenda of the triennial conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). At the meeting, held this year in Bangkok from March 4th-14th, governments of 178 member states agreed to add 343 species of plants and animals to CITES’ appendices I and II. There they joined 33,000 species (5,000 animals and 28,000 plants) that already crowded it. All of these species are in danger of extinction. Listing by CITES ensures that trade in them is either banned or strictly monitored. At least that is the theory. But the abiding impression left by a CITES meeting is that no one knows how best to protect beleaguered wildlife. CITES has failed to curtail, let alone prevent, illegal trade—especially in species for which demand and market price are extremely high, and they climb ever higher, the closer to extinction a species becomes. >> Read the Full Article

Red Tide in Oman

The United Arab Emirates Ministry of Environment and Water indicates that red tide may be present in the waters of the Gulf of Oman. As a precautionary measure, Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA) shut down some desalinization plants in Kalba. Red tide is caused by a population explosion in certain species of plankton. The poison these microorganisms produce is usually reddish or brown in color and is toxic to the nervous system of fish and many other vertebrates. Red tide outbreaks can cause large fish die-offs and impact other animals. A red tide in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico recently killed at least 174 endangered Florida Manatees by weakening their muscles so they could no longer lift their heads to breath. Red tide does not necessarily kill shrimp and other shellfish, but its toxin is concentrated in these animals and can be passed on to humans who consume them. >> Read the Full Article