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Urban expansion could greatly increase flood risks

A heads-up to New York, Baltimore, Houston and Miami: a new study suggests that these metropolitan areas and others will increase their exposure to floods even in the absence of climate change, according to researchers from Texas A&M University. The study presents first-ever global forecasts of how the exposure of urban land to floods and droughts may change due to urban expansion in the near future. In 2000, about 30 percent of the global urban land (over 75,000 square miles) was located in the high-frequency flood zones; by 2030, this will reach nearly 40 percent (280,000 square miles) as the global urban land grows from 250,000 square miles to 720,000 square miles, the authors say.

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Are the EU's air pollution rules weaker than China's?

Europe’s coal plants will be allowed to emit more deadly pollutants than their notorious Chinese counterparts under EU proposals for new air quality rules heavily influenced by the big energy lobby, new research has found. A Greenpeace investigation has found new pollution limits for coal-fired power plants currently being discussed by the European Union are significantly weaker than those in place in China, as well as several times weaker than what’s already been achieved by the least polluting plants in other developed economies, including the US and Japan.

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University of Oxford finds trees inhale less carbon when they are drought - impacted

For the first time, an international research team has provided direct evidence of the rate at which individual trees in the Amazonian basin 'inhale' carbon from the atmosphere during a severe drought. 

The researchers measured the growth and photosynthesis rates of trees at 13 rainforest plots across Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, comparing plots that were affected by the strong drought of 2010 with unaffected plots. They found that while growth rates of the trees in drought-affected plots were unchanged, the rate of photosynthesis – by which trees convert carbon into energy to fuel their activities – slowed down by around 10 percent over six months. Their paper, published in the journal, Nature, concludes that trees may be channelling their more limited energy reserves into growth rather than maintaining their own health. Computer simulations of the biosphere have predicted such responses to drought, but these are the first direct observations of this effect across tropical forests.  

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Amazon deforestation 'threshold' causes species loss to accelerate

One of the largest area studies of forest loss impacting biodiversity shows that a third of the Amazon is headed toward or has just past a threshold of forest cover below which species loss is faster and more damaging. Researchers call for conservation policy to switch from targeting individual landowners to entire regions.

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New insight on the Tree of Life from Temple University

Temple University researchers have assembled the largest and most accurate tree of life calibrated to time, and surprisingly, it reveals that life has been expanding at a constant rate. 

"The constant rate of diversification that we have found indicates that the ecological niches of life are not being filled up and saturated," said Temple professor S. Blair Hedges, a member of the research team's study, published in the early online edition of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution. "This is contrary to the popular alternative model which predicts a slowing down of diversification as niches fill up with species." 

The tree of life compiled by the Temple team is depicted in a new way --- a cosmologically-inspired galaxy of life view --- and contains more than 50,000 species in a tapestry spiraling out from the origin of life.

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Newest 'green' burial method? Turn your loved ones into trees

Have you ever considered what might be a more eco-friendly alternative to coffins? How about organic burial pods where, instead of headstones, trees are planted on top. Two Italian designers–Anna Citelli and Raoul Bretzel– came up with up a project called Capsula Mundi, an innovative design concept with an environmental twist that addresses the exorbitant use of natural resources associated with traditional burials. Described as “the first Italian project created to promote the realization of green cemeteries in our country,” Capsula Mundi is an egg-shaped pod created to house a deceased human body in the fetal position, which eventually becomes nutrients that nourish the tree above.

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Air pollution linked to slower cognitive development in children

Attendance at schools exposed to high levels of traffic-related air pollution is linked to slower cognitive development among 7-10-year-old children in Barcelona, according to a study published by Jordi Sunyer and colleagues from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL), Spain, published in this week's PLOS Medicine.

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Combined Arctic ice observations show decades of loss

It's no surprise that Arctic sea ice is thinning. What is new is just how long, how steadily, and how much it has declined. University of Washington researchers compiled modern and historic measurements to get a full picture of how Arctic sea ice thickness has changed. The results, published this month in The Cryosphere, show a thinning in the central Arctic Ocean of 65 percent between 1975 and 2012. September ice thickness, when the ice cover is at a minimum, is 85 percent thinner for the same 37-year stretch.

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Some plants "prefer" certain pollinators and respond to them!

Rather than just waiting patiently for any pollinator that comes their way to start the next generation of seeds, some plants appear to recognize the best suitors and “turn on” to increase the chance of success, according to a new study published this week.

Being picky may increase access to genetic diversity and thus give the plants a competitive advantage over their neighbors, but there is a risk, the researchers say. If the preferred pollinators decline for any reason, the plants may not reproduce as easily and could decline as well.

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Filtration Systems on School Buses Are Needed to Protect Children from Pollutants

An on-board air filtration system developed specifically for school buses reduces exposure to vehicular pollutants by up to 88 percent, according to a study by researchers at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. The high-efficiency cabin air, or HECA, system could help protect the 25 million American children who commute on school buses nearly every day. Children are more susceptible to air pollution than adults because they breathe more quickly and their immune and cardiovascular systems are still developing, said Yifang Zhu, the study’s senior author and an associate professor in the department of environmental health sciences.

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