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Mercury levels in Arctic birds found increasing over the past 130 years

Alarm bells are ringing for Arctic wildlife with the discovery that mercury levels in the feathers of ivory gulls have increased almost 50-fold. 

University of Saskatchewan biologists studied the feathers of museum specimens spanning a 130-year period. Lead researcher Dr Alex Bond told BBC News, “We’re concerned because the mercury’s going up but their diet hasn’t changed over the 130 years we’ve studied. It’s gone up 45 times, which is twice the average for an animal species in the Arctic.”

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How can we improve plant growth?

Supercomputers and genetic engineering could help boost crops’ ability to convert sunlight into energy and tackle looming food shortages, according to a team of researchers. Photosynthesis is far from its theoretical maximum efficiency, say the authors of a paper in Cell, published on 26 March. They say that supercomputing advances could allow scientists to model every stage in the process and identify bottlenecks in improving plant growth.

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Neonicotinoids Responsible for Pollinator Declines Worldwide

Monarch caterpillars are vulnerable to neonicotinoid toxicity at concentrations as low as 1 part per billion, writes Jonathan Latham, and that makes them vulnerable to residues from commercial crops - and even more so from horticultural use in plant nurseries!

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New report identifies possible next steps in US energy development

The U.S. energy portfolio changes over time. Scientific and technologic advances related to hydraulic fracturing have dramatically increased the supply of U.S. oil and gas; because of this, a methane economy - in which natural gas provides the leading share of primary energy consumption - is now a possible scenario for U.S. energy development. In a report released by the American Geosciences Institute (AGI), the social, political, technical and environmental components of a methane economy are identified. The report also addresses how industry, government and the public might best work together to advance common energy goals.

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Fracking appears to be linked to rise in radon levels in Pennsylvania homes

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers say that levels of radon in Pennsylvania homes - where 42 percent of readings surpass what the U.S. government considers safe - have been on the rise since 2004, around the time that the fracking industry began drilling natural gas wells in the state.

The researchers, publishing online April 9 in Environmental Health Perspectives, also found that buildings located in the counties where natural gas is most actively being extracted out of Marcellus shale have in the past decade seen significantly higher readings of radon compared with buildings in low-activity areas. There were no such county differences prior to 2004. Radon, an odorless radioactive gas, is considered the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the world after smoking. 

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City Ants love Junk Food - but then again, who doesn't?

We know that many animals have adapted to deal with our sprawling urbanization, but a new study reveals that ants might also be getting in on the act by developing a taste for our waste food scraps and our junk food. The research, conducted by scientists at North Carolina State University and published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, aimed to investigate the eating habits of the most common ant species in our big cities. 

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US-protected lands mismatch biodiversity priorities

The United States has one of the oldest, best-established park systems in the world. But what if those public lands -- mostly created to preserve scenic natural wonders -- are in the wrong place to conserve the lion’s share of the nation’s unique biodiversity? A new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found exactly that. Existing “protected lands -- both federal and private -- poorly match the biodiversity priorities in the country,” say the researchers. 

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What is the source of mysterious methane emissions at Four Corners?

A team of scientific investigators is now in the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest, aiming to uncover reasons for a mysterious methane hotspot detected from space by a European satellite. The joint project is working to solve the mystery from the air, on the ground, and with mobile laboratories. 

“If we can verify the methane emissions found by the satellite, and identify the various sources, then decision makers will have critical information for any actions they are considering,” says Gabrielle Pétron, a scientist from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, working in NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) and one of the mission’s investigators. Part of President Obama’s recent Climate Action Plan calls for reductions in U.S. methane emissions. NOAA is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Early warning system to detect algal blooms being launched by EPA

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that it is developing an early warning indicator system using historical and current satellite data to detect algal blooms. EPA researchers will develop a mobile app to inform water quality managers of changes in water quality using satellite data on cyanobacteria algal blooms from three partnering agencies-- NASA, NOAA, and the U.S. Geological Survey. 

The multi-agency project will create a reliable, standard method for identifying cyanobacteria blooms in U.S. freshwater lakes and reservoirs using ocean color satellite data. Several satellite data sets will be evaluated against environmental data collected from these water bodies, which allows for more frequent observations over broader areas than can be achieved by taking traditional water samples.
 

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EPA Moves to Restrict Bee-killing Pesticides

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally taken some action to restrict the use of pesticides that are believed to be causing serious declines in pollinators, but environmentalists are arguing the agency still needs to do more.

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