Tag: Environment

Some Species Of Plants Are Sleeping To Cope With Climate Change

Buttercups are dormancy-prone plants.

Not all species flee rising temperatures.

As the mercury has inched upward across western North America over the last 40 years, many plant species have moved downhill, toward—not away from—warmer climates, according to the results of a new study.

The finding adds to growing evidence that temperature isn’t the only factor influencing how Earth’s life will respond to climate change.

Like animals, plants require specific environmental conditions—such as the right temperature, moisture, and light levels—in order to thrive.

Even small changes in environmental parameters can affect the reproduction and survival of a species.

As global temperatures rise, both animal and plant populations are projected to gradually shift toward northern latitudes and upward to higher elevations where temperatures are cooler in order to stay within their ideal range of environmental conditions.




In an effort to understand how plants may cope with changing climates, researchers at the University of Washington, Seattle, compiled geographic coordinate data for the locations of nearly 300 plant species within seven topographically distinct regions across western North America.

Ranging from the western Sierra Nevada mountain range in Nevada to the eastern Rocky Mountain Foothills of northern Canada, spanning the last 40 years.

They then compared these findings with changing climate conditions, such as temperature, rain, and snowfall. The study is the most extensive of its kind to date.

The results of the analysis were unexpected. More than 60% of plants shifted their distributions downward, toward warmer, lower elevations—despite significant climate warming across the regions under study, the team reported online on 24 July in Global Change Biology.

Even more striking, all plants within a region—regardless of species—moved in the same direction.

A Pogonia japonica flower. Pogonias are dormancy-prone plants.

A closer look revealed that the downhill movement of plants was likely driven by the changes in precipitation that accompanied warming temperatures.

Those regions that experienced less rain and snow at high elevations were those with plants shifting toward lower elevations with wetter climates.

Less snow in winter translates into less water in summer, resulting in water-stressed plants and downward shifts,” Harsch says.

Although plant populations are shifting downward toward greater water availability, they will also have to contend with an increasingly warming climate.

It’s a double-edged sword,” Harsch states, “as temperatures rise, water needs will also increase.”

A bee pollinating.

Although previous, smaller studies have also noted downhill movements in relation to water availability, others report uphill movements in relation to temperature, suggesting the direction of species movements is dependent on local environmental conditions as well as the types of species present.

These studies highlight the importance of understanding the complexities not only of future climate change but the climatological requirements of individual species,” says Anne Kelly, a plant ecologist at the Catalina Island Conservancy in Avalon, California, who was not involved in the work.

Future climate changes are projected to intensify precipitation patterns in western North America, leading to more pronounced shifts in plant distributions and potential subsequent effects on the wildlife that depend on them for food and habitat.

How we decide where to allocate limited resources such as money and manpower to conserve species in the face of long-term global warming is a primary concern right now,” Harsch notes.

“We can’t monitor all species everywhere, but, by identifying the factors responsible for environmental changes, we can begin to predict effects and prioritize conservation management choices.”

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Ditching Microbeads: The Search For Sustainable Skincare

Is smoother skin worth more than having potable water or edible fish?

For years, research has shown that beauty products made with tiny microbeads, gritty cleansers that scrub off dead skin cells, have been damaging water supplies, marine life and the ecological balance of the planet.

Beat the Microbead, an international campaign to ban the plastic beads, reports that marine species are unable to distinguish between food and microbeads.

According to the campaign, “over 663 different species were negatively impacted by marine debris with approximately 11% of reported cases specifically related to the ingestion of microplastics“.

To make things worse, microbeads can act like tiny sponges, absorbing several other dangerous chemicals, including pesticides and flame retardants. As they ingest microbeads, marine animals also consume these other poisons.




The obvious solution to the microbead problem is to cut it off at the source.

But while major cosmetic companies like Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, and Procter & Gamble have pledged to phase out the use of microbeads in favor of natural alternatives, they also say that the shift could take several years.

And as more research is done, it appears that microbead replacements may come with dangers of their own.

Some of the natural replacements for microbeads also have negative consequences.

Greg Boyer, chair of the chemistry department at SUNY-College of Environmental Science and Forestry, says a possible negative consequence is with degrading sugars that biochemically “burn” the sugar for energy.

A variety of biodegradable ingredients are available to developers.

Victoria Fantauzzi, co-founder of Chicago-based La Bella Figura Beauty, says that her company recently released a facial cleanser that uses enzymes found in papaya and pineapple, ingredients known to effectively exfoliate skin cells.

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5 Ways to Recycle Your Old Smartphone

Having your new phone on hand, you finally have an excuse to ditch your current smartphone. Even if your old phone’s glory days are far behind it, you can still get some value when you decide to get rid of it.

Recycling your smartphone is a great way to reduce electronic waste, help your outdated tech find a new life, support a good cause or even make a little money.




According to a November 2012 survey by Lookout, 62% of American households have old cellphones lying around, unused.

Discarded iPhones alone account for $9 billion of unused goods in consumers’ homes.

Here are eight things you can do to make parting with your old phone that much more exciting.

1. Donate Your Phone to the Troops

Non-profit Phones for Soldiers works to provide U.S. troops with a cost-free way to call home from their active stations.

Through recycling partner Mindful eCycling, old mobile phones are traded in for calling cards and other communications devices.

2. Sell It on Glyde

Looking for a one-stop shop for selling back all the old tech in your home?

Glyde lets you buy and sell a variety of devices, plus it compares the amounts you can fetch on its site with offers from Amazon, Apple and Gazelle.

3. Put It on an Appstand

This picture frame for your iPhone 3 or 3GS turns your old iPhone into a lovely piece of home decor.

Available on sale for $8.73, the Appstand lets you breathe new life into your outdated Apple smartphone.

4. Sell It Back to Apple

Apple will trade your old iPhone for an Apple gift card through its Reuse and Recycling program. Amounts vary depending on your phone’s make and model.

5. Donate to Survivors of Domestic Violence

Verizon has collected more than 10 million phones since 2001 for victims of domestic abuse: one in four U.S. women, one in seven men and nearly 3 million children.

To donate your old phone, drop it at a Verizon store, ship it or donate to a HopeLine phone drive.

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The 2018 Lyrid Meteor Shower Will Light Up The Sky On Earth Day.

One of the best meteor showers of the year coincides with Earth Day this year — meaning people all over the world will have the chance to see the 2018 Lyrid meteor shower light up the sky.

The Lyrids peak on April 22–23. A Half Moon may make viewing conditions difficult. Named after constellation Lyra, the Lyrids are one of the oldest known meteor showers.

What is the Lyrid meteor shower?

The Lyrid meteor shower happens annually, and according to a video from NASA’S Jet Propulsion Laboratory, it is active from April 14 until April 30 — and peaks on April 22.

It is the “first significant meteor shower in a few months,” according to AccuWeather’s astronomy blogger Dave Samuhel.




And while it is only a moderately active meteor shower, it is the oldest one on record and was first recorded by the Chinese in 687 B.C.

What stargazers see when they’re observing the Lyrid meteor shower is the Earth’s orbit coming into contact with dust left behind from a comet — in this case Comet Thatcher (C/1861 G1), which was discovered in 1861 by A.E. Thatcher.

Comet Thatcher orbits the sun roughly every 415 years, according to NASA. The debris left behind by the comet burns up in our atmosphere creating fiery streaks observed in the night sky.

A long exposure photograph shows how intense the Milky Way can be

Where is the best place to see the meteor shower?

Special equipment — telescopes, binoculars — is not necessary to view the Lyrid meteor shower, which is safe to view with the naked eye.

However, to increase your chances of seeing this annual meteor shower, it’s best to head to a dark area away from light pollution.

And while the Lyrid meteor shower should be viewable no matter your location, there are a few other variables to take into consideration: hemisphere and weather.

For those in the U.S., AccuWeather has a map showing what areas of the country will have good, fair, or poor conditions for viewing.

According to the map, those with the best optics for viewing the Lyrid meteor shower are on the East Coast from Pennsylvania to Maine as well as a swath on the West Coast that includes parts of Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Washington and California.

The Lyrid meteor shower “favors the Northern Hemisphere,” according to EarthSky’s McClure, because “the higher [the star] Vega climbs into your sky, the more meteors you’re likely to see.

Vega is part of the constellation Lyra — where the Lyrids get their name, because it looks like they are radiating from the constellation — and it is located in the Northern Celestial Hemisphere.

However, those in the Southern Hemisphere will have to wait until the “early hours of the morning before reasonable rates can be observed,” according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Viewers in Australia will have the best view of the meteor shower on Monday, April 23 between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. local time.

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Is There Still Time To Save The Great Barrier Reef?

New research published today in the scientific journal Global Change Biology shows that adopting best management practices can help the Great Barrier Reef in a time of climate change.

The study models a range of predicted outcomes for the Reef out to 2050 under different scenarios of future climate change and local management action.

There is significant potential for coral recovery in the coming decades,” said Dr Nick Wolff, Climate Change Scientist at The Nature Conservancy.

But under a scenario of unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions and business-as-usual management of local threats, we predict that after this recovery, average coral cover on the Reef is likely to rapidly decline by 2050.”




The research involved scientists from The Nature Conservancy; The University of Queensland; James Cook University; the UK’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture; and the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

It modelled changes to corals that make up the Great Barrier Reef in the presence of a range of threats including cyclones, Crown-of-Thorns Starfish, nutrient runoff from rivers and warming events that drive mass coral bleaching.

The study provides much-needed clarity around how conventional management actions can support the resilience of the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem.

The $60M package announced recently by the Federal Government including $10.4M for Crown-of-Thorns Starfish control and $36.6M for measures to reduce river pollution is a positive step.

This could buy us some critical time,” said Dr Wolff.

The Queensland and Federal Governments have the right strategy in pursuing ambitious targets for water pollution reduction by 2025.

Further large-scale investments from both the private and public sectors should now be mobilised to expand and accelerate a range of innovative and tailored solutions to ensure targets are met.

Importantly though, the positive signs for the future shown in the research also depend strongly on whether the world meets the ambitious carbon emission targets of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The study shows that in a world of unmitigated carbon emissions, the increased frequency and severity of coral bleaching events will overwhelm the capacity of corals to recover and the benefits of good management practices could then be lost.

The study’s results also come with an important warning: not all coral reefs can be protected by good management under climate change, even if global warming can be kept below 1.5°C.

To protect the most climate sensitive species in the hardest-hit places, we would need to consider additional and unconventional management interventions beyond carbon mitigation AND intensified management.

“A new innovative R&D program to develop such interventions, including ways to boost the spread of warm-adapted corals to naturally cooler parts of the Great Barrier Reef, is included in the Australian Government’s recent $60M announcement. It’s a big step in the right direction,” concluded Dr Anthony.

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Miles of Dangerous Algae Covering Lake Erie

Dog swims through an algae bloom in North Carolina.

A potentially harmful algae bloom covered more than 1812 square km in the western basin of Lake Erie last week, turning the lake bright green and alarming residents and local officials.

Scientists say that algae blooms have been a growing problem for Lake Erie since the 2000s, mostly because of the extensive use of fertilizer on the region’s farmland.

The algae blooms contain cyanobacteria, which, under certain conditions, can produce toxins that contaminate drinking water and cause harm to the local ecosystem.




Millions of people get drinking water from Lake Erie. Previous blooms have been toxic.

While not all algae blooms are toxic, they can produce a type of toxin called microcystis that can cause serious liver damage under certain conditions.

Dangerous levels of the toxin caused Toledo, Ohio, to shut down the drinking water supply of a half-million residents for three days in 2014.

In total, almost 3 million people get drinking water from the central basin of Lake Erie. Officials have been testing the intake points in the lake where towns draw water and report that the current toxin levels are low.

Green waters of Lake Erie, which emit “18 times more carbon dioxide than all the cars in Detroit,” according to researcher Tonya DelSontro, who studies the relationship of lake algae to greenhouse gases.

The algae blooms are getting larger.

Since the 2000s, algae blooms in Lake Erie have become much more extensive.

According to one study by the Carnegie Institute for Science and Stanford University, most of the increase in the size of the blooms can be attributed to a rise in the amount of dissolved phosphorus flowing into the lake.

In the 1980s, researchers started tracking algae blooms in Lake Erie. They were mostly small, but changes in farming practices caused them to spike.

The blooms are expected to grow more harmful as global warming changes rainfall patterns.

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Scientists Accidentally Produce An Enzyme That Devours Plastic

There are research teams around the world dedicated to finding a remedy for the growing plastic pollution crisis, but now it seems that one group of scientists have found a feasible answer — and they stumbled upon it by accident.

Researchers studying a newly-discovered bacterium found that with a few tweaks, the bug can be turned into a mutant enzyme that starts eating plastic in a matter of days, compared to the centuries it takes for plastic to break down in the ocean.

The surprise discovery was made when scientists began investigating the structure of a bacterium found in a waste dump in Japan.




The bug produced an enzyme, which the team studied using the Diamond Light Source, an intense beam of X-rays 10 billion times brighter than the sun.

At first, the enzyme looked similar to one evolved by many kinds of bacteria to break down cutin, a natural polymer used by plants as a protective layer.

But after some gentle manipulation, the team actually improved its ability to eat PET (polyethylene terephthalate), the type of plastic used in drinks bottles.

Existing examples of industrial enzymes, such as those used in detergents and biofuels, have been manipulated to work up to 1,000 times faster in just a few years.

McGeehan believes the same could be possible with the new enzyme: “It gives us scope to use all the technology used in other enzyme development for years and years and make a super-fast enzyme.

According to the team, potential future uses for the enzyme could include spraying it on the huge islands of floating plastic in oceans to break down the material.

Plastic pollution has seen renewed focus in recent times, thanks largely to attention drawn by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series, and through a number of legislative proposals.

Science has examined a huge range of solutions, from plastic-plucking robots to infrared identification from space, but the discovery of this mutant enzyme could herald an entirely new way of dealing with the issue.

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Chocolate Production Generates A Lot Of Pollution

For decades, commuters and tourists have delighted in the mouthwatering smells radiating from the Blommer Chocolate Co.’s factory near the Chicago River downtown.

But following a federal agency’s complaint, the aroma will soon disappear.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently cited the family-run business for alleged clean-air violations, and officials are hurrying to install equipment that will reduce emissions — and stop the smell.

It’ll start to go away as we put pollution abatement equipment in place,” the company’s vice president, Rick Blommer, told The Associated Press.




The company that makes chocolate liquor, cocoa butter and other products for bulk sale is trying to resolve allegations that its cocoa-crushing process causes air pollution.

Still, the demise of the rich, brownie smell spilling from the 66-year-old Blommer plant will be a bitter loss, said odor researcher Alan Hirsch, head of the Chicago-based Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation.

Chocolate smells put people in a relaxed state,” said Hirsch, who likened the effect of chocolate vapors on the brain to an antidepressant.

It’s been shown bad odors increase aggression; pleasant ones make people more docile. So you could say the chocolate smell is a real service to Chicago.

Smells are a big deal in this city once closely associated with the stench of slaughtered cows and whose very name etymologists say comes from the American Indian words for skunk or onion.

But a pleasant smell to some is pollution to others.

In citing the company earlier this month, the EPA said inhaling the plant’s emissions in high concentrations can harm children, the elderly and people with heart and lung diseases.

But within smelling range of the factory, it’s nearly impossible to find anyone who doesn’t rave about the chocolate aroma.

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Treasure Trove In World’s E-Waste

Mankind goes to an immense effort to extract metal from out of the ground. We dig holes thousands of meters deep into the earth, blow up mountains and dig laboriously in sand dunes.

But in fact, there are much easier ways to find precious metals. There is a treasure trove of gold and silver stored in household and industrial trash — in discarded electrical devices, to be more exact.

According to a report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) around 40 million tons worth of electronics end up in the trash annually.

The report was released on Monday at a meeting of environmental officials from 140 countries on Indonesia’s resort island of Bali.

Recycling these materials properly would assist in preserving the earth’s stocks of raw materials, says Rüdiger Kühr of the United Nations University (UNU).

He is also the executive secretary of the Solving the E-Waste Problem Initiative (StEP), a consortium of non-governmental organizations, industry, and governments.




And the yield would be many times larger than that of traditional mines.

Kühr talks about a form of “urban mining.” To mine one gram of gold, most companies will move a tone of ore.

But it would be far simpler to get the gold through recycling — you can find the same amount of gold in 41 mobile phones.

Even mines with higher production ratios — such as the Kalgold Mine in South Africa where five grams of gold are found per ton of rock — are overshadowed by the mountain of electrical trash.

Christian Hagelücken of the Belgian recycling firm, Umicore, points out that the world’s rubbish tips contain millions of computer circuit boards and that these yield 250 grams of gold per ton.

That is 50 times better than Kalgold.

Most E-Waste Metal Not Recycled

In 2008 the cost of the gold, silver, copper, palladium and cobalt was used to manufacture computers was €2.7 billion.

That doesn’t include the approximately 60 other materials that are also used in the production process.

According to UNEP, developing and emerging nations do not have sufficient recycling processes to extract important raw materials.

In the European Union, the manufacturers of electronic equipment are duty bound to take back their used wares. Scrap metal dealers had hoped for big business as a result.

When it comes to copper, the system works relatively well. About half of German copper production comes from recycling.

However, the majority of the metal still doesn’t end up back in the production cycle.

Meanwhile gold, silver and palladium are rarely recycled in Europe, UNEP says. Every year around €5 billion are lost in this way.

The massive growth in the manufacture of electronic products means that this waste of resources threatens to grow even greater, the UNEP report continues.

Future technology involving fuel cells or photovoltaic cells will further increase the need for these metals. Sales of mobile telephones reached a billion in 2007.

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According To A New Study, Pollution Kills 9 Million People Each Year

Dirty air in India and China. Tainted water in sub-Saharan Africa.

Toxic mining and smelter operations in South America. Pollution around the globe now contributes to an estimated 9 million deaths  annually or roughly one in six according to an in-depth new study published in the Lancet.

If accurate, that means pollution kills three times more people each year than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, with most of those deaths  in poor and developing countries.

Going into this, my colleagues and I knew that pollution killed a lot of people. But we certainly did not have any idea of the total magnitude of the problem,” said Philip Landrigan, dean of global health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and co-chair of the commission behind the report.

I think all of us were really surprised when we saw this.

The two-year project, which relied on data from researchers in more than 130 countries documenting the causes of disease and premature deaths in recent decades, found that poor air quality was the most significant pollution-related killer.




That includes both outdoor pollution tainted by mercury, arsenic and other harmful particulates, and household air dirtied by the burning of wood, dung and other organic materials.

The result: An estimated 6.5 million deaths in 2015 from heart disease, strokes, lung cancer and other respiratory problems.

Water pollution, which includes everything from unsafe sanitation to contaminated drinking water, accounted for an additional 1.8 million annual deaths from gastrointestinal diseases and other infections, researchers found.

Pollution in the workplace also took a heavy toll on some of the world’s poorest workers.

From bladder cancer in dye workers to the lung disease pneumoconiosis in coal miners, researchers found that occupational exposure to various carcinogens and toxins was linked to about 800,000 deaths annually.

In 2015, the largest number of deaths attributable to pollution occurred in India and China, with an estimated 2.5 million and 1.8 million deaths respectively. Other severely affected countries include Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kenya.

Beyond the massive human toll, the authors of Thursday’s report also focused on the financial toll caused by pollution-related health problems.

Until now, people haven’t recognized what an incredible hit pollution makes on the economy of a country,” Landrigan said.

“Pollution control can stimulate the economy because it reduces death and disease.”

They estimated the hit to national budgets at about 1.3 percent of gross domestic product in low-income countries, compared to about 0.5 percent in developed, high-income countries.

In addition, nations facing crippling pollution tend to spend much more on health care to treat diseases related to the problem.

And the warming of the Earth’s climate is likely to fuel more deaths in the absence of international action, she said.

Climate change is going to exacerbate the very problems that are identified in this article. There will be more contagious and infectious diseases.

There will be more lives lost, more injuries, if we don’t identify a path that gets us out of the hole that we’re in,” McCarthy said.

What people don’t realize is the instability that results from poverty, the instability that results from migration as a result of climate change.

The startling conclusion that pollution accounts for 16 percent of deaths worldwide is, of course, an estimate.

But the findings build on previous studies, including a 2016 report from the World Health Organization, detailing the extent to which pollution represents a public health crisis.

If countries do not take actions to make environments where people live and work healthy, millions will continue to become ill and die too young,” then-WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said last year.

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