Tag: Environment

How High Is Air Pollution In Your City And How Does It Compare To The Most Polluted Cities In The World?

Pollution is a greater global threat than Ebola and HIV, according to warnings by the World Health Organisation.

According to its recent report, one in four deaths among children aged under five are now due to environmental hazards such as air pollution and contaminated water.

Previously this year, air pollution levels in London were worse than those in Beijing for a brief period – with the UK capital’s pollutants frequently breaking UK limits.

Now, the UK Government plans to tackle such dangers by banning diesel and petrol cars by 2040.

But how bad is air pollution in other areas of the UK?




How does the UK compare to the world?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), London is just a mid-table city when it comes to the international league table of polluted places.

London only ranked 1,389th out of the nearly  3,000 cities and towns around the world monitored in the WHO’s database of annual air pollution readings.

WHO guidelines state that cities should aim to have an annual average of no more than 10 micrograms of PM2.5 (very fine particulate matter) for every cubic metre of air. London had an annual PM2.5 average of 15 μg/min 2013, far lower than Beijing’s average of 85.2 μg/m3.

These particles are very small in diameter and are classed as carcinogenic by leading health organisations. Thousands of deaths a year are attributable to air pollution in the UK.

Which cities have the highest air pollution levels worldwide?

According to the WHO, the most polluted city in the world is Zabol in Iran.

Zabol’s PM2.5 measurements were found to average a massive 217 μg/m3 for the latest available year – more than 20 times higher than the recommended level.

The next two entries on the list are both located in India (Gwalior and Allahabad) while the first non-Asian city on the list is Bamenda in Cameroon which came in eighth place.

Tetovo in Macedonia was the most polluted European city in the database, followed by Tuzla in  Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The most polluted city in the UK isn’t actually London. Glasgow topped that list, followed by Scunthorpe and Leeds with London in sixth place.

However, given that these rankings are based on figures taken in 2013, the situation may have changed since. London may also experience greater peaks in air pollution but these figures are all annual averages.

Asian cities tend to be more polluted

The WHO’s database is by no means a comprehensive list of every city in the world – many places will simply not be able to provide air pollution figures of sufficient quality to be included.

However, from the figures available, Asian cities were the likeliest to exceed the 10 μg/m3 guideline for PM2.5.

Just four of the 632 Asian locations included in the data were found to be below this level, meaning that the equivalent of 99.4 per cent of Asian cities exceeded it.

African cities were the next most likely to annually exceed their recommended levels of air pollution while towns and cities in Oceania were the least likely.

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Passit on: Popular Science

A Powerful Earthquake In Alaska Didn’t Trigger A Big Tsunami

Last Tuesday night, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck southeast of Kodiak Island in the Gulf of Alaska, prompting a tsunami warning that forced people to flee to higher grounds in the middle of the night.

Fortunately, the tsunami waves were less than a foot high, and the advisories were canceled a little after 4AM local time. So why was Alaska so lucky?

Powerful quakes that happen out at sea are known to cause destructive tsunamis. In 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake in northeastern Japan triggered waves as high as 126 feet, killing nearly 20,000 people.




In 2004, a similarly strong quake off the coast of Indonesia caused a tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people.

Alaska also has a history of strong earthquakes: in 1964, the state experienced the most powerful quake ever recorded in the US, a 9.2 magnitude tremor followed by a tsunami that killed over 100 people.

Earthquakes occur because the Earth’s crust is divided into plates. These plates can move smoothly against each other or become stuck.

When they become stuck, they build up strain over time, until one day, the plates unstick, releasing energy that causes an earthquake.

Just south of Alaska, the Pacific plate is sliding underneath the North American plate, an area called the subduction zone. That’s why the state is highly seismic, Blakeman tells said.

Last Tuesday night’s earthquake generated because of all the strain building up on the subduction zone, but it did not occur exactly on a fault where the Pacific Ocean seafloor is sliding under the North American plate, Blakeman says.

Instead, the quake occurred a little farther out, in a place where the fault is moving horizontally.

This type of quake, called a strike-slip earthquake, is less likely to trigger large tsunamis, and this is probably why Alaska only saw waves of less than a foot, according to Blakeman.

When earthquakes happen on the subduction zone itself, where one plate is pushing down while the other is going up, then high waves form.

To get a tsunami, you have to have substantial vertical movement on the seabed,” Blakeman says. Those types of earthquakes were responsible for the massive tsunamis in Japan and Indonesia.

Aftershocks in Alaska could continue for weeks or months, Blakeman says. If the quakes generate from the same zone as last night, then large tsunamis should not be expected.

But because the state sits by the Pacific-North America plate boundary, it’s normal that new earthquakes will happen in the future. When and where, exactly?

That’s impossible to say. Earthquakes are so complicated that scientists aren’t able to predict them — at least not yet. “Since we can’t predict them, all we can do is be prepared,” Blakeman says.

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These Tree-Planting Drones Are About To Start An Entire Forest From The Sky

For the past five years, a group of villagers in the delta of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar has painstakingly planted 2.7 million mangrove trees in an attempt to begin to restore an ecosystem that has been disappearing for decades.

But the work is laborious, and the local nonprofit guiding the work wants to cover a much larger area–so they’re now turning to tree-planting drones.

The drones, from the startup BioCarbon Engineering, can plant as many as 100,000 trees in a single day, leaving the local community to focus on taking care of the young trees that have already started to grow.




Last September, the company will begin a drone-planting program in the area along with Worldview International Foundation, the nonprofit guiding local tree-planting projects.

To date, the organization has worked with villagers to plant an area of 750 hectares, about twice the size of Central Park; the drones will help cover another 250 hectares with 1 million additional trees.

Ultimately, the nonprofit hopes to use drones to help plant 1 billion trees in an even larger area.

The drone technology works in stages. As a first step, mapping drones fly more than 300 feet over the land, collecting detailed data about the topography and soil quality.

An algorithm uses that data to choose the best locations to plant trees, and the best species to plant.

Next, a second group of drones, flying low over the ground, automatically follows the map to plant seeds in custom, nutrient-filled “seed pods” designed by plant scientists to support each species.

Each drone can carry a mix of different species simultaneously. The drones fire the pods quickly enough to penetrate the soil.

The process targets locations for planting a seed within centimeters. “We can modify what to plant, and where, so you have the highest chance of survival,” says Irina Fedorenko, co-founder of BioCarbon Engineering, who initially connected with the founder of Worldview International at a conference.

“If you do aerial spreading–you just spread seeds wherever–maybe they hit a rock, maybe they hit a swamp, and they’re not going to survive. But we can basically control for that.”

It’s technically possible for a single drone pilot to oversee six of the drones simultaneously, reaching the maximum of 100,000 plantings in a day, though drone regulations in some countries require a pilot for every drone, making the process slightly slower.

The drones are at least 10 times faster than humans planting trees by hand, while the process can cost half as much.

In the U.K., where the test plots have been in place for more than a year, the trees are showing good rates of survival.

“[Survival rates are] definitely much better than spreading from a helicopter, which many people use,” says Fedorenko. “In some species, it’s comparable with hand planting.

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Scientists Study Winter Storms Involving Thundersnow To Pinpoint Where Heavy Snowfalls May Occur

It’s been more than 30 years—during the Blizzard of 1978 to be exact—since Neil Stuart saw “thundersnow,” a weather phenomenon featuring the unusual combination of thunder, lightning and snow.

The National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist was 10 years old, living near Boston. The storm—which he says “is famous in meteorological circles” and influenced his career path—dumped 27 inches of snow on the ground over two days.

The heaviest snow, however, came during a six-hour thundersnow storm that delivered one foot of snow over a six hour period.

Seeing thundersnow come down is “like watching a time-lapse movie of the snow building up, because it falls so quickly,” Stuart says.




 

Thunder and lightning during a snowstorm is different from a run-of-the-mill snowstorm; it is extremely rare—fewer than 1 percent of observed snowstorms unleash thundersnow, according to a 1971 NSW study.

But recorded observations of the phenomenon date back to 250 B.C., say ancient Chinese records translated in 1980 by atmospheric scientist Pao-Kuan Wang, now of the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Today, researchers are interested in thundersnow for its predictive value.

According to Patrick Market, an associate professor of atmospheric science at the University of Missouri, a 30-year study of snowfall found that when lightning is observed during a snowstorm, there is an 86 percent chance that at least 15 centimeters of snow will fall within 113 kilometers of the flash.

Researchers are trying to determine the combo of atmospheric conditions required to create thundersnow to help them better predict heavy snowfall.

Which they define as at least 20 centimeters falling at a rate of 7.5 to 10 centimeters per hour—and issue warnings about hazardous weather before it hits, giving people time to prepare, take cover and get off the road.

By the time the lightning flashes during a thundersnow-storm, it is often already too late to prepare local residents for the whiteout on the way.

If we’re talking about the observation of thundersnow,” Market says, “the predictive value is on the order of minutes to hours.

In the U.S. thundersnow is most likely to form in mountainous regions like the Rockies as well as in the vicinity of comparatively warm and large bodies of water such as the Great Lakes.

Snow requires a cold environment, adequate moisture to form clouds, and rising air; thundersnow makes an appearance when a fourth ingredient is added: thermal instability, which is created by the addition of relatively warm air.

Market last month joined a team of storm-chasing University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign researchers using various radars to examine what takes place inside storm clouds to cause snowfall.

The team is surveying atmospheric conditions in several locations in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

A field mill, a device that measures electric fields near the ground, will be used to determine whether there is an accumulation of charged ice particles in the clouds above.

The team next year plans to fly into snowstorms in NWS planes and drop parcels containing thermometers, barometers and other devices that, like weather balloons, will measure temperature on their way down.

If the team encounters thundersnow during its study, it may be able to confirm the conditions needed to produce it, making such icy tempests easier to forecast.

With some lead time, [be it] hours or even a day or two,” Stuart says, “we can see a big storm and predict which areas will see extreme snowfall.

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This City In Alaska Is Warming So Fast, Algorithms Removed The Data Because It Seemed Unreal

Last week, scientists were pulling together the latest data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s monthly report on the climate when they noticed something strange: One of their key climate monitoring stations had fallen off the map.

All of the data for Barrow, Alaska — the northernmost city in the United States — was missing.

No, Barrow hadn’t literally been vanquished by the pounding waves of the Arctic Sea (although it does sit precipitously close).




The missing station was just the result of rapid, man-made climate change, with a runaway effect on the Arctic.

The temperature in Barrow had been warming so fast this year, the data was automatically flagged as unreal and removed from the climate database.

It was done by algorithms that were put in place to ensure that only the best data gets included in NOAA’s reports.

They’re handy to keep the data sets clean, but this kind of quality-control algorithm is good only in “average” situations, with no outliers. The situation in Barrow, however, is anything but average.

If climate change is a fiery coal-mine disaster, then Barrow is our canary. The Arctic is warming faster than any other place on Earth, and Barrow is in the thick of it.

With less and less sea ice to reflect sunlight, the temperature around the North Pole is speeding upward.

The missing data obviously confused meteorologists and researchers, since it’s a record they’ve been watching closely, according to Deke Arndt, the chief of NOAA’s Climate Monitoring Branch.

He described it as “an ironic exclamation point to swift regional climate change in and near the Arctic.

Just this week, scientists reported that the Arctic had its second-warmest year — behind 2016 — with the lowest sea ice ever recorded.

The announcement came at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, and the report is topped with an alarming headline: “Arctic shows no sign of returning to reliably frozen region of recent past decades.

Changes in the Arctic extend beyond sea ice. Vast expanses of former permafrost have been reduced to mud. Nonnative species of plants, types that grow only in warmer climates, are spreading into what used to be the tundra.

Nowhere is this greening of the Arctic happening faster than the North Slope of Alaska, observable with high-resolution clarity on NOAA satellite imagery.

The current observed rate of sea ice decline and warming temperatures are higher than at any other time in the last 1,500 years, and likely longer than that,” the NOAA report says.

At no place is this more blatantly obvious than Barrow itself, which recently changed its name to the traditional native Alaskan name Utqiagvik.

In just the 17 years since 2000, the average October temperature in Barrow has climbed 7.8 degrees. The November temperature is up 6.9 degrees.

The December average has warmed 4.7 degrees. No wonder the data was flagged.

The Barrow temperatures are now safely back in the climate-monitoring data sets. Statisticians will have to come up with a new algorithm to prevent legitimate temperatures from being removed in the future.

New algorithms for a new normal.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Scientists Develop ‘Speed Breeding’ To Feed Rising Population

Scientists are engaged in a race against time to breed staple crops that can both survive climate change and yield bigger harvests. Their aim is to feed a growing population in a warming world.

The method used for centuries of growing one crop a year in variable weather conditions and then selecting the seeds from the best plants is no longer viable in fast-changing climatic conditions.

Scientists are concerned that for some years there have been few improvements in yields of grain.

A new system called speed breeding, designed to grow six crops a year, has been developed in glasshouses to accelerate the process.




Using LED lighting to aid photosynthesis, intensive regimes allow the plants to grow for 22 hours a day.

This new form of lighting is a lot cheaper and also more efficient than using the old sodium vapor lamps that produced too much heat and not enough light.

Among the crops that can now be grown up to six generations a year are wheat, barley, peas and chickpeas. Canola, a form of rapeseed, can achieve four cycles.

Using this technology, scientists can study the way plants deal with diseases, and their shape and structure and flowering time, and the growing cycle can be repeated every eight weeks.

It is hoped the technique will yield new varieties of crops that can be grown on a commercial scale within 10 years.

If this could be achieved, it would increase productivity in the same way as the green revolution of the 1960s, when new crop varieties, modern farm practices, and use of fertilizers saved millions of people from starvation.

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Seagulls Eat Garbage In Landfills And Then Poop Pollution Into Our Waters

What goes around comes around. Scientists say chemicals from trash in our landfills are making their way into our waters via the seagulls’ gastrointestinal tracts.

A report on this delightful state of affairs was published in the journal Water Research.

We generally stop thinking about our trash the moment the garbage truck comes to collect it. But it doesn’t just disappear.

No, our coffee filters and corn-chip bags head to the landfill, where they sit and sit and sit … unless they get eaten first.




Then their nutrients, their nitrogen and phosphorus, disappear into an animal’s gullet and reappear on the other side, sometimes a few days later, sometimes miles away—and sometimes in our lakes, rivers, and streams.

Researchers wondered how much of an impact these trash-picking critters could have.

They were especially interested in seagulls, whose poop has previously been shown to carry traces of toxic chemicals from our plastic-filled seas.

The first step was to figure out just how many landfill-mooching seagulls we have.

Authors Scott Winton and Mark River of the Duke University Wetland Center used documented seagull sightings in the eBird citizen science database to estimate the number of landfill-living gulls across the entire United States.

Their calculations came up with about 1.4 million birds.

The scientists then used that 1.4-million figure to calculate the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus the birds might collectively be dumping.

That phosphorus changes the water’s chemical composition and could lead to more algae blooms, which can kill off other organisms in the lake’s ecosystem.

Winton and River suggest that rather than clean our waters after they’re polluted, a better approach might be to stop the problem at the source: our trash.

They recommend limiting landfill size and covering existing garbage heaps to keep the seagulls from ever finding it.

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Why Sloths Live Life In the Slow Lane

Forests cover more than one-third of the land on Earth, yet few vertebrates make the canopy their home, and even fewer subsist solely on a diet of tree leaves.

In a new study in American Naturalist, researchers from the University of Wisconsin – Madison explain why this lifestyle is so rare and why animals that live in trees and eat leaves tend to live life at a slower pace.

Those species that do take advantage of this niche do not often radiate afterwards; that is, they don’t diversify and take on a variety of specialized forms.

The energetic constraints of a leafy diet are thought to prevent such adaptive radiation.

Leaves are an energetically and nutritionally poor food source. Most animals that live off plant leaves tend to be large, such as moose, elk, and deer.




Leaves are everywhere, but you need pretty complex gut machinery to be able to extract energy and nutrients from them,” says Jonathan Pauli, one of the study’s authors.

Most herbivores are big-bodied and they carry around big guts to break down and detoxify plant leaves.”

But animals that live in the treetops cannot be too big, or else the branches won’t support their body weight. So how do they make it on a nutritionally challenging diet?

Pauli and Zachariah Peery, along with co-authors Emily Fountain and William Karasov, set out to answer this question by measuring the daily energy expenditure of both two-toed and three-toed sloths in Costa Rica.

Both species of sloth are at the extreme end of specialization for a tree-dwelling, leaf-eating, lifestyle.

Pauli, Peery, and colleagues found that both sloth species expended very little energy, but three-toed sloths were especially slothful.

Three-toed sloths expended as little as 460 kilojoules of energy a day, the equivalent of burning only 110 calories. It is the lowest measured energetic output for any mammal.

Three-toed sloths use both behavioral and thermal strategies to limit their energy output. “They really are a slothful bunch,” says Pauli.

While two-toed sloths have bigger home ranges and move around quite a bit, three-toed sloths have very small home ranges and spend most of their time in just one or a few individual trees. “

“To limit energy costs, three-toed sloths find a good tree and camp out for a while and eat from it.”

The researchers then compared their sloth data to similar studies of other tree-dwelling, leaf-eating species from around the world.

Overall, the more specialized for the niche an animal was, the lower its daily energy expenditure.

While these species had lower metabolic rates than most mammals in general, they also relied heavily on thermoregulation and behavioral strategies to reduce their energetic expenditure.

The findings support the idea that tree-dwelling, leaf-eating mammals are tightly constrained by the poor nutritional quality of their diet, and thus, exhibit extremely low energetic output.

The researchers believe this impedes the opportunity for organisms to rapidly radiate into this niche.

For tree-dwelling, leaf-eating animals, there is a whole series of key innovations that are needed before they can crack into that open niche.

Sloths are the poster children for making a living in the treetops by saving energy. For them, slothfulness is a necessary virtue, not a deadly sin.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Scientists Find ‘Black Holes’ At Sea

They are impossible to see, but astronomers are convinced they exist.

Black holes are tears in the fabric of space-time that pull in everything that comes too close to them.

Nothing that gets sucked in can escape, not even light.

Now, scientists believe they have found features of these black holes here on Earth, in the southern Atlantic Ocean.

Some of the largest ocean eddies in this region are mathematically equivalent to the mysterious black holes of space, according to researchers from ETH Zurich and the University of Miami.

This means that they do the same thing with water that black holes do with light.

Scientists believe these ocean eddies could moderate the negative impact of melting sea ice in a warming climate.




But up until now they’ve been unable to quantify this impact because the exact boundaries of these swirling water bodies have remained a mystery.

George Haller, professor of Nonlinear Dynamics at ETH Zurich, and Francisco Beron-Vera, research Professor of Oceanography at the University of Miami, believe they have now solved this puzzle.

Using mathematical models, they isolated water-transporting eddies from a sequence of satellite observations.

They did this by detecting their rotating edges, which the scientists found were indicators of the whirlpool within.

To their surprise, these eddies turned out to be mathematically equivalent to black holes.

At a critical distance, a light beam no longer spirals into the black hole.

Instead, it dramatically bends and comes back to its original position, forming a circular orbit.

A barrier surface formed by closed light orbits is called a ‘photon sphere’ in Einstein’s theory of relativity.

The researchers discovered similar closed barriers around select ocean eddies.

In these barriers, fluid particles move around in closed loops – similar to the path of light in a photon sphere.

And as in a black hole, nothing can escape from the inside of these loops, not even water.

The researchers identified seven Agulhas Rings of the black-hole type, which transported the same body of water without leaking for almost a year.

Mathematicians have been trying to understand such peculiarly coherent vortices in turbulent flows for a very long time”, explained Haller.

Their results are expected to help in resolving a number of oceanic puzzles, ranging from climate-related questions to the spread of environmental pollution patterns.

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California’s Wildfires Reaches The Pacific Ocean

Firefighters tackling a fast-moving wildfire in southern California have said the blaze has jumped the main coastal highway and reached the Pacific Ocean, US media report.

The fire, which ripped through Ventura County north of Los Angeles, triggered evacuation orders for some 150,000 people and has damaged 150 buildings.

Authorities say some 12,000 structures remain threatened by the fire.

Strong winds are expected to further hinder efforts to contain the blaze.

We are still in the middle of an aggressive and active firefight on the ground,” a spokesman for the Ventura fire department, Robert Welsbie, said.




If the winds pick up, we will face quite a challenge.”

Fire officials said a quarter of a million homes were without power and they feared many more buildings would be destroyed.

It was revealed on Wednesday that the fire had crossed Highway 101, reaching the Solimar Beach area.

The road remains open but local officials have told motorists to take care.

More than 1,000 firefighters have been battling the fires in the cities of Ventura and Santa Paula, some 70 miles (115km) north of Los Angeles.

Residents of Santa Paula and Ventura received mandatory evacuation notices on their phones and from emergency workers going house to house.

The blaze, which has devastated more than 55,000 acres (22,000 ha), continues to be fanned by ferocious Santa Ana winds – which blow in from the California desert – and low humidity.

Winds are forecast reach up to 70mph (115km/h) on Wednesday and remain strong throughout the week.

The Ventura County fire is believed to have broken out close to Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula at some time after 18:00 on Monday (02:00 GMT Tuesday).

The authorities have warned of widespread smoke and advised people with health conditions, the elderly and children to stay indoors in affected areas.

A separate fire broke out early on Tuesday closer to Los Angeles, in Sylmar.

California has been hit hard by wildfires in recent months. At least 40 people were killed when fires ripped through parts of northern California’s wine region in October.

Some 10,000 structures were destroyed.

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