. Scientific Frontline: Environmental
Showing posts with label Environmental. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Environmental. Show all posts

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Small isolated wetlands are pollution-catching powerhouses

Photo Credit: Herbert Aust

Small isolated wetlands that are full for only part of the year are often the first to be removed for development or agriculture, but a new study shows that they can be twice as effective in protecting downstream lake or river ecosystems than if they were connected to them. 

Using a new method involving satellite imagery and computer modelling, researchers from the University of Waterloo found that since these small wetlands are disconnected, pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorous get trapped. This is the first study to use satellite data for estimating nutrient retention. 

All wetlands act like sponges, providing flood protection by absorbing the vast volume of water that can be suddenly released from rainfall or snowmelt. Improving water quality, providing habitat, increasing biodiversity and trapping carbon are just some of the many environmental benefits wetlands provide. Their destruction increases our vulnerability to the extreme effects of climate change, including flooding, drought and the frequency of storms. 

Algae bio hacks itself in adapting to climate change

Phytoplankton - the foundation of the oceanic food chain.
Photo Credit: NOAA

Clear evidence that marine phytoplankton are much more resilient to future climate change than previously thought is the focus of a study published in Science Advances by an international team of scientists, including University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa oceanography professor David Karl.

“Knowing how marine algae will respond to global warming and to associated decline of nutrients in upper ocean waters is crucial for understanding the long-term habitability of our planet,” said Karl.

Combining data from the long-term Hawaiʻi Ocean Time-series program at UH Mānoa with new climate model simulations conducted on one of South Korea’s fastest supercomputers, the scientists revealed that a mechanism, known as nutrient uptake plasticity, allows marine algae to adapt and cope with nutrient-poor ocean conditions that are expected to occur over the next decades in response to global warming of the upper ocean.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Soil tainted by air pollution expels carbon

How climate change is fueling itself
Photo Credit: Nöel Puebla

New UC Riverside research suggests nitrogen released by gas-powered machines causes dry soil to let go of carbon and release it back into the atmosphere, where it can contribute to climate change. 

Industrial manufacturing, agricultural practices, and significantly, vehicles, all burn fossil fuels that release nitrogen into the air. As a result, levels of nitrogen in Earth’s atmosphere have tripled since 1850. The research team wanted to understand whether this extra nitrogen is affecting soil’s ability to hold onto carbon and keep it from becoming a greenhouse gas.

“Because nitrogen is used as a fertilizer for plants, we expected additional nitrogen would promote plant growth as well as microbial activity, thereby increasing carbon put into soils,” said Peter Homyak, study co-author and assistant professor in UCR’s Department of Environmental Sciences. 

In dryland soil, the type that covers much of Southern California, this is not what they saw.

Instead, the team found that under certain conditions, extra nitrogen causes dryland soil to acidify and leach calcium. Calcium binds to carbon, and the two elements then leave the soil together. This finding is detailed in the journal Global Change Biology

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Understanding plants can boost wildland-fire modeling in uncertain future

How a fire burns and whether the vegetation survives or dies depend on how the live fuels — plants — use water and carbon. New research creates a framework for bringing those dynamics into wildland-fire models to more accurately predict wildfire and prescribed-burn behavior and resulting effects.
Photo Credit: Pixabay

A new conceptual framework for incorporating the way plants use carbon and water, or plant dynamics, into fine-scale computer models of wildland fire provides a critical first step toward improved global fire forecasting.

“Understanding the influences of vegetation structure and physiology on wildland fire is crucial to accurately predicting the behavior of fire and its effects,” said L. Turin Dickman, a plant ecophysiologist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Dickman is corresponding author of a paper on plants and fire modeling in the journal New Phytologist. “Our research can be used to improve models that fire managers need to navigate an uncertain future.”

Honey bee colony loss in the U.S. linked to mites, extreme weather, pesticides

A new study by Penn State researchers is is the first to concurrently consider a variety of potential honey bee stressors at a national scale and suggests several areas of concern to prioritize in beekeeping practices.
Photo Credit: Pixabay

About one-third of the food eaten by Americans comes from crops pollinated by honey bees, yet the insect is dying off at alarming rates. In one year alone, between April of 2019 and April of 2020, one study reported a 43% colony loss in honey bees across the United States.

A new study led by Penn State researchers provides preliminary insight on the potential effects of several variables, including some linked to climate change, on honey bees. Their findings show that honey bee colony loss in the U.S. over the last five years is primarily related to the presence of parasitic mites, extreme weather events, nearby pesticides, as well as challenges with overwintering. The study took advantage of novel statistical methods and is the first to concurrently consider a variety of potential honey bee stressors at a national scale. The study, published online in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests several areas of concern to prioritize in beekeeping practices.

Monitoring an ‘anti-greenhouse’ gas: Dimethyl sulfide in Arctic air

Sumito Matoba (left) and Yoshinori Iizuka (right) on the southeastern dome in Greenland, drilling the ice core used in the study
Photo Credit: Sumito Matoba

Data stored in ice cores dating back 55 years brings new insight into atmospheric levels of a molecule that can significantly affect weather and climate.

Dimethyl sulfide (C2H6S) is a small molecule released by phytoplankton in the ocean, which can play a big role in regulating the Earth’s climate. It encourages cloud formation above the sea, and is often called an ‘anti-greenhouse gas’, since clouds block radiation from the sun and lower sea surface temperatures. At least some blocked heat will be retained in the atmosphere, however, so the effects can be complex. Researchers at Hokkaido University have charted evidence for increasing dimethyl sulfide emissions linked to the retreat of sea ice from Greenland as the planet warms. They reported their findings in the journal Communications Earth & Environment.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Short-term bang of fireworks has long-term impact on wildlife

Photo Credit: Jill Wellington

Popular fireworks should be replaced with cleaner drone and laser light shows to avoid the “highly damaging” impact on wildlife, domestic pets and the broader environment, new Curtin-led research has found.

The new research, published in Pacific Conservation Biology, examined the environmental toll of firework displays by reviewing the ecological effects of Diwali festivities in India, Fourth of July celebrations across the United States of America, and other events in New Zealand and parts of Europe.

Examples included fireworks in Spanish festivals impacting the breeding success of House Sparrows, July firework displays being implicated in the decline of Brandt’s Cormorant colonies in California, and South American sea lions changing their behavior during breeding season as a result of New Year’s fireworks in Chile.

Lead author Associate Professor Bill Bateman, from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences, said fireworks remained globally popular despite the overwhelming evidence that they negatively impacted wildlife, domestic animals and the environment.

The 'brown food web': dead vegetation plays essential role in desert ecosystems

Researchers from UNSW say these insights could be used by the conservation managers of arid ecosystems in Australia.
Resized Image using AI by SFLORG
Photo Credit: Prof. Mike Letnic.

A reduction in decaying vegetation can have significant impacts on the desert food chain, UNSW scientists have found.  

It’s well understood that overgrazing by herbivores like kangaroos can change ecosystems dramatically, but the impact excessive grazing has on the cover of dead vegetation – and cascading effects on small vertebrates like lizards, desert frogs and dunnarts – hasn’t been extensively studied.

Now, scientists at UNSW Sydney have shown that overgrazing can disrupt the desert food webs that exist between dead plant material, termites and animals that rely on termites as their main food source. This latest discovery has important implications for the conservation of biodiversity in arid Australia.

Researchers from the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences carried out field work in the arid region of South Australia and published their findings in the journal Ecosystems

Earth likely to cross critical climate thresholds even if emissions decline

Already, the world is 1.1 degrees Celsius hotter on average than it was before fossil fuel combustion took off in the 1800s. More extreme rainfall and flooding are among the litany of impacts from that warming.
Photo Credit: Chris Gallagher

Artificial intelligence provides new evidence our planet will cross the global warming threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius within 10 to 15 years. Even with low emissions, we could see 2 C of warming. But a future with less warming remains within reach.

A new study has found that emission goals designed to achieve the world’s most ambitious climate target – 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels – may in fact be required to avoid more extreme climate change of 2 degrees Celsius.

The study, published Jan. 30 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provides new evidence that global warming is on track to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial averages in the early 2030s, regardless of how much greenhouse gas emissions rise or fall in the coming decade.

The new “time to threshold” estimate results from an analysis that employs artificial intelligence to predict climate change using recent temperature observations from around the world.

Climate Change May Cut U.S. Forest Inventory by a Fifth This Century

Mountain forests.
Photo Credit  Alek Kalinowsk

A study led by a North Carolina State University researcher found that under more severe climate warming scenarios, the inventory of trees used for timber in the continental United States could decline by as much as 23% by 2100. The largest inventory losses would occur in two of the leading timber regions in the U.S., which are both in the South.

Researchers say their findings show modest impacts on forest product prices through the end of the century, but suggest bigger impacts in terms of storing carbon in U.S. forests. Two-thirds of U.S. forests are classified as timberlands.

“We already see some inventory decline at baseline in our analysis, but relative to that, you could lose, additionally, as much as 23% of the U.S. forest inventory,” said the study’s lead author Justin Baker, associate professor of forestry and environmental resources at North Carolina State University. “That’s a pretty dramatic change in standing forests.”

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Ancestral variation guides future environmental adaptations

A sea campion in its natural habitat on the coast.
Photo Credit: Bangor University

The humble sea campion flower can show us how species adapt.

The speed of environmental change is very challenging for wild organisms. When exposed to a new environment individual plants and animals can potentially adjust their biology to better cope with new pressures they are exposed to - this is known as phenotypic plasticity.

Plasticity is likely to be important in the early stages of colonizing new places or when exposed to toxic substances in the environment. New research published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, shows that early plasticity can influence the ability to subsequently evolve genetic adaptations to conquer new habitats.

Friday, January 27, 2023

UNSW eco-friendly aviation research project receives CRC-P funding

Dr Branislav Hredzak and Professor John Fletcher have been awarded funding from Round 13 of the CRC Project scheme in collaboration with Dovetail Electric Aviation
Photo Credit: Dovetail Electric Aviation

An innovative UNSW research and development project focused on making regional commuter services greener and cheaper has been awarded a CRC-P grant.

Two UNSW Sydney researchers in collaboration with industry partners have been awarded $3 million in funding from the federal government’s Cooperative Research Centre Projects (CRC-P) program. This is part of a $12.8 million project that will convert a turboprop plane to electric propulsion, providing regional commuter services.

UNSW Senior Lecturer Dr Branislav Hredzak and Professor John Fletcher at the School of Electrical Engineering and Telecommunications secured the funding from Round 13 of the CRC Project scheme, for the project 'Electric Conversion to Fast Track Zero Emissions Commercial Aviation', together with Dovetail Electric Aviation, Sydney Seaplanes, Memko Aviation, Aerospace and Defense and CSIRO.

The project will develop, flight test and certify the conversion to electric propulsion of a turboprop aircraft, which will make regional commuter services eco-friendlier and more affordable with a focus on emissions-free aircraft for use on regional routes in the future.

Farming more seaweed for food, feed and fuel

Seaweed farmers in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia
Photo Credit: Eldo Rafael

A University of Queensland-led study has shown that expanding global seaweed farming could go a long way to addressing the planet’s food security, biodiversity loss and climate change challenges.

PhD Candidate Scott Spillias, from UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Science, said seaweed offered a sustainable alternative to land-based agricultural expansion to meet the world’s growing need for food and materials.

“Seaweed has great commercial and environmental potential as a nutritious food and a building block for commercial products including animal feed, plastics, fibers, diesel and ethanol,” Mr. Spillias said.

“Our study found that expanding seaweed farming could help reduce demand for terrestrial crops and reduce global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by up to 2.6 billion tons of CO2-equivalent per year.”

Researchers mapped the potential of farming more of the 34 commercially important seaweed species using the Global Biosphere Management Model.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Rapid plant evolution may make coastal regions more susceptible to flooding and sea level rise

Brady Stiller, University of Notre Dame
Photo Credit: Courtesy University of Notre Dame

Evolution has occurred more rapidly than previously thought in the Chesapeake Bay wetlands, which may decrease the chance that coastal marshes can withstand future sea level rise, researchers at the University of Notre Dame and collaborators demonstrated in a recent publication in Science.

 Jason McLachlan, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, evaluated the role evolution plays in ecosystems in the Chesapeake Bay by studying a type of grass-like plant, Schoenoplectus americanus, also called chairmaker’s bulrush. The research team used a combination of historical seeds found in core sediment samples, modern plants, and computational models to demonstrate that “resurrected” plants were allocating more resources in their roots below ground, allowing them to store carbon more quickly than modern plants.

Health impact of chemicals in plastics is handed down two generations

UC Riverside mouse study finds paternal exposure to phthalates increases risk of metabolic diseases in progeny
Photo Credit: Meruyert Gonullu

Fathers exposed to chemicals in plastics can affect the metabolic health of their offspring for two generations, a University of California, Riverside, mouse study reports.

Plastics, which are now ubiquitous, contain endocrine disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, that have been linked to increased risk of many chronic diseases; parental exposure to EDCs, for example, has been shown to cause metabolic disorders, including obesity and diabetes, in the offspring.

Most studies have focused on the impact of maternal EDC exposure on the offspring’s health. The current study, published in the journal Environmental International, focused on the effects of paternal EDC exposure.

Led by Changcheng Zhou, a professor of biomedical sciences in the School of Medicine, the researchers investigated the impact of paternal exposure to a phthalate called dicyclohexyl phthalate, or DCHP, on the metabolic health of first generation (F1) and second generation (F2) offspring in mice. Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastics more durable.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Humans have influenced the growth of blue-green algae in lakes for thousands of years

TERENO Monitoring Station on Lake Tiefer See, Germany (weather station, water probes, sediment traps).
Photo Credit: A. Brauer

In recent years, there have been increasing reports of toxic blue-green algae blooms in summer, even in German lakes, caused by climate warming and increased nutrient inputs. But humans have not only had an influence on the development of blue-green algae since modern times, but already since the Bronze Age from about 2,000 B.C. This is the result of a study by researchers from the German Research Centre for Geosciences GFZ and colleagues, published in the scientific journal “Communications Biology”. Since some blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, leave no visible fossil traces in sediments due to their small size, little is known about how they evolved in our lakes during the last centuries and millennia. Using DNA from sediments, the researchers have now been able to decipher for the first time the history of blue-green algae over the last 11,000 years in the sediments of a lake in Mecklenburg.

Artificial photosynthesis uses sunlight to make biodegradable plastic

Fumaric acid synthesis from CO2 using solar energy. Using sunlight to power the photoredox system pyruvic acid and CO2 are converted into fumaric acid, by malate dehydrogenase and fumarase.
Illustration Credit: Yutaka Amao, Osaka Metropolitan University

In recent years, environmental problems caused by global warming have become more apparent due to greenhouse gases such as CO2. In natural photosynthesis, CO2 is not reduced directly, but is bound to organic compounds which are converted to glucose or starch. Mimicking this, artificial photosynthesis could reduce CO2 by combining it into organic compounds to be used as raw materials, which can be converted into durable forms such as plastic.

A research team led by Professor Yutaka Amao from the Research Center for Artificial Photosynthesis and graduate student Mika Takeuchi, from the Osaka Metropolitan University Graduate School of Science, have succeeded in synthesizing fumaric acid from CO2, a raw material for plastics, powered—for the first time—by sunlight. Their findings were published in Sustainable Energy & Fuels.

Spinning food processing waste into ‘gold’

Among the waste types analyzed in the study was fried donut waste, a potential candidate for anaerobic fermentation to biogas.
Photo Credit: Pexels

There is money to be made – and potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – by finding a second life for the potato peels, fried dough particles, cheese whey and other industrial food-processing waste products that routinely end up in landfills, according to new research.

Scientists have taken the first step at estimating the best large-scale uses for food processing waste, first analyzing its contents and, based on those findings, proposing production opportunities ranging from sustainable fuels, biogas and electricity to useful chemicals and organic fertilizer.

This work is known as valorization, or determining the potential value of something “that is otherwise valueless or even a drain on resources for a company – when you have to spend money to get rid of it,” said Katrina Cornish, senior author of the study and professor of horticulture and crop science and food, agricultural and biological engineering at The Ohio State University. 

“The bioeconomy is becoming much more prevalent as a topic of conversation. In this case, don’t get rid of food waste – make some money from it,” said Cornish, also an Ohio Research Scholar of Bio-Emergent Materials. “Here, we’re putting the base model in place for food manufacturers who are wondering, ‘What can I do with this stuff?’ Our flow chart guides them in a specific direction and prevents them from wasting time trying something we know won’t work.” 

Wolves eliminate deer on Alaskan Island then quickly shift to eating sea otters


Wolves on an Alaskan island caused a deer population to plummet and switched to primarily eating sea otters in just a few years, a finding scientists at Oregon State University and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game believe is the first case of sea otters becoming the primary food source for a land-based predator.

Using methods such as tracking the wolves with GPS collars and analyzing their scat, the researchers found that in 2015 deer were the primary food of the wolves, representing 75% of their diet, while sea otters comprised 25%. By 2017, wolves transitioned to primarily consuming sea otters (57% of their diet) while the frequency of deer declined to 7%. That pattern held through 2020, the end of the study period.

“Sea otters are this famous predator in the near-shore ecosystem and wolves are one of the most famous apex predators in terrestrial systems,” said Taal Levi, an associate professor at Oregon State. “So, it’s pretty surprising that sea otters have become the most important resource feeding wolves. You have top predators feeding on a top predator.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Global study of hypoxia in rivers shows it is more prevalent than previously thought

High-frequency sensors deployed in streams, such as those being installed by Joanna Blaszczak in a stream in Montana, can provide continuous data that captures night-time hypoxic conditions.
Photo Credit: Malgosia Blaszczak.

New research led by University of Nevada, Reno Assistant Professor Joanna Blaszczak shows hypoxia in rivers and streams is generally much more prevalent across the globe than previously thought. Hypoxia is low or depleted oxygen levels in surface waters that can be harmful to aquatic species and can in some cases increase production of harmful greenhouse gases from rivers.

The research, published recently in the journal Limnology and Oceanography Letters, compiles over 118 million readings of dissolved oxygen and temperature taken from over 125,000 locations in rivers across six continents and 93 countries and spanning over 100 years, from 1900 to 2018. Hypoxia, defined in this study as dissolved oxygen concentrations below 2 milligrams per liter, was detected in rivers and streams in 53 countries, with 12.6% of all locations exhibiting at least one hypoxic measurement.

“Hypoxia in coastal waters and lakes is widely recognized as a detrimental environmental issue, yet we have lacked a comparable understanding of hypoxia in rivers,” Blaszczak, with the University’s College of Agriculture, Biotechnology & Natural Resources, said. “While 12.6% might not seem like a huge percentage, previously it was generally thought that occurrences of hypoxia in rivers and streams were exceedingly rare. Having shown presence of hypoxia in one of every eight river locations with data is definitely a game changer in terms of how we need to think of and give attention to the issue of hypoxia in rivers and streams.”

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