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

Monday, June 19, 2023

Fighting Climate Change Isn’t an Automatic Win for Environmental Justice

Photo Credit: SD-Pictures

Some simulated pathways for reducing emissions in the U.S. maintained or exacerbated existing racial inequities

In the United States in 2017, people of color were exposed to 10% more particulate matter air pollution compared to white people. This well-documented inequity has been baked into the fabric of American life by racist housing policies like redlining and has left a legacy of negative health outcomes for communities of color across the nation.

The kind of sweeping cuts to greenhouse gas emissions needed to fight climate change are expected to improve air quality because burning fossil fuels also produces air pollution. But a new study from researchers at the University of California San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and School of Global Policy and Strategy shows that while reducing greenhouse gases will likely improve overall air quality, reducing emissions could maintain or even exacerbate environmental inequality.

The study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and supported by the National Science Foundation as well as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, used computer models to simulate more than 300 paths to reduce emissions that all achieved the U.S. Paris Climate Agreement goal of a 50-52% net greenhouse gas emissions reduction from 2005 levels by 2030. While all the simulated paths to reducing emissions improved overall air quality, some actually widened the air quality gap between people of color and white people in the U.S.

“These disparities can go up or down depending on how you implement climate policy,” said climate scientist Pascal Polonik, 2023 Scripps PhD graduate and lead author of the study. “It’s not a given that any climate policy that succeeds in reducing emissions also succeeds when it comes to environmental justice.”

Clean, sustainable fuels made ‘from thin air’ and plastic waste

Carbon capture from air and its photoelectrochemical conversion into fuel with simultaneous waste plastic conversion into chemicals. 
Photo Credit: Ariffin Mohamad Annuar

Researchers have demonstrated how carbon dioxide can be captured from industrial processes – or even directly from the air – and transformed into clean, sustainable fuels using just the energy from the sun.

The researchers from the University of Cambridge developed a solar-powered reactor that converts captured CO2 and plastic waste into sustainable fuels and other valuable chemical products. In tests, CO2 was converted into syngas, a key building block for sustainable liquid fuels, and plastic bottles were converted into glycolic acid, which is widely used in the cosmetics industry.

Unlike earlier tests of their solar fuels technology however, the team took CO2 from real-world sources – such as industrial exhaust or the air itself. The researchers were able to capture and concentrate the CO2 and convert it into sustainable fuel.

Although improvements are needed before this technology can be used at an industrial scale, the results, reported in the journal Joule, represent another important step toward the production of clean fuels to power the economy, without the need for environmentally destructive oil and gas extraction.

“Predatory bacteria” provide hope for chlorine-free drinking water

The inside of a water pipe
Photo Credit: Krisjtan Pullerits / Lund University

In a unique study carried out in drinking water pipes in Sweden, researchers from Lund University and the local water company tested what would happen if chlorine was omitted from drinking water. The result? An increase in bacteria, of course, but after a while something surprising happened: a harmless predatory bacteria grew in numbers and ate most of the other bacteria. The study suggests that chlorine is not always needed if the filtration is efficient - and that predatory bacteria could perhaps be used to purify water in the future.

Just as human intestines contain a rich bacterial flora, many types of bacteria thrive in our drinking water and the pipes that transport them. On the inside of pipe walls is a thin, slippery coating, called a biofilm, which protects and supports bacteria. These bacteria have adapted to life in the presence of chlorine, which otherwise has the primary task to kill bacteria, particularity bacteria that can make humans sick.  

An ordinary glass of drinking water contains a lot of harmless bacteria. Chlorine, however, which in the studied piping system was added in the form of monochloramine, is not wholly unproblematic.

Climate impact of natural gas often worse than assumed

Dr. Florian Dietrich (blue shirt) and prof. Jia Chen check the measuring systems on the roof of the TUM.
Photo Credit: Andreas Heddergott / Technical University of Munich

Heating and cooking with natural gas often has a greater impact on the climate than commonly believed. This is a conclusion of a new calculation model developed by researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM). The difference: the researchers’ model also takes into account the enormous quantities of unused gas released into the atmosphere.

“We wanted to know whether – when gas leakage is also considered – gas or electricity is more climate friendly for heating and cooking,” explains Dr. Florian Dietrich, a researcher at the TUM Associate Professorship of Environmental Sensing and Modeling. In collaboration with researchers at ETH Zurich, the University of Utrecht and the Dutch organization for applied research in natural sciences TNO, the international team used a high-tech measurement station to capture carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide. They also used laser spectrometers for onsite methane measurements. They then combined all variables in a specially designed calculation model. The results were published and verified in a peer review process.

Gravity foundations: A marine-friendly future for wind turbines

Photo Credit: Tom Swinnen

Gravity-base structures may offer a porpoise and dolphin-friendly construction alternative to traditional pile-driven wind turbine foundations, new research suggests.

Marine scientists from Newcastle University investigated short- and long-term impacts of this new wind turbine installation method on cetaceans off Blyth, Northumberland. The response of dolphins and harbor porpoises was investigated using cetacean echolocation recorders over a three-year period, covering one year before, during and after the installation.

The findings revealed that wind turbine installation using gravity-base foundations had no long-term effects on the occurrence of dolphins or porpoises.

“Our findings are important in light of the global expansion of offshore wind farms and the need to find installation methods that have less impact to the marine environment”, says lead author and master’s graduate Kelsey Potlock. “These findings are promising for conservationists, marine environmental managers, and for the future of offshore renewable energy.”

Saturday, June 17, 2023

The Egyptian vulture is a threatened bird of prey worldwide.

The Egyptian vulture is a threatened bird of prey worldwide.
Photo Credit: Conservation Biology Group, University of Barcelona

If urban landfills disappear under the new European regulation, some endangered birds such as the Egyptian vulture will need alternatives to their feeding patterns in order to survive in the future. This is one of the main conclusions of a study published in the journal Movement Ecology, led by Professor Joan Real, director of the UB Conservation Biology Group (EBC-UB) of the Faculty of Biology and the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio) of the University of Barcelona. The study includes the collaboration of teams from the Centre for Advanced Studies of Blanes (CEAB-CSIC) and the University of Seville.

The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is one of the smallest vultures and a threatened bird of prey worldwide, which is included in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List as an Endangered Species. In the Iberian Peninsula, this species has been in regression for years, with the exception of some areas such as Catalonia, where there has been a progressive increase in its populations.

This Trans-Saharan migratory species spends the winter in Mali, Senegal and Mauritania and returns to the Iberian Peninsula during spring and summer to breed. It usually feeds on small carrion and dead animals found in the countryside, especially extensive livestock dead animals as well as wildlife. Therefore, it is an indicator species of the environmental status and it helps to eliminate organic remains from our ecosystems.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

UD study evaluates how climate shocks impact the planted and harvested areas for crops

Dongyang Wei (left), a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences, and Kyle Davis, assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences and the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, as well as a resident faculty member with UD’s Data Science Institute, led a new study that focused on crop production shocks and how they are affected by variations in planted and harvested areas.
Photo Credit: Evan Krape

As the world faces more climate variability and extremes in the face of global warming, sudden environmental changes add an extra layer of stress to food production in the United States and around the world. It is critical, then, to figure out how the areas in which crops are planted and harvested respond to these stressors, which can bring on ‘shocks’ in production — or, put differently, sudden and statistically significant crop declines. 

These production shocks are a big concern in terms of food stability and many crops in the United States — such as corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat — are all experiencing more frequent production reductions as a result of these shocks.

A new study published in the scientific journal Nature Sustainability led by the University of Delaware’s Dongyang Wei looked at these production shocks and, specifically, how they are affected by variations in planted and harvested areas. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

A marine mystery: finding the link between climate change and sea sponge loss

The latest findings suggest that thermal stress disturbs sponge-microbes symbiosis, which likely causes the sponge to die.
Photo Credit: Heidi Luter.

Microbes could hold the key to explaining how climate change affects sea sponges, warn scientists from UNSW Sydney. 

Sea sponges are essential to marine ecosystems. They play critical roles in the ocean, as they provide shelter and food to a plethora of marine creatures, recycle nutrients by filtering thousands of liters of sea water daily, and are hosts to microbes that may be the key to some of the most pressing medical challenges we face today. 

Now, scientists from UNSW have discovered that when a tropical sea sponge is exposed to warmer temperatures, it loses an important microbe, which could explain why the sponge tissue dies.  

The latest study, published in ISME Communications, has revealed that by exposing sea sponges to a temperature increase of 3°C, one essential microbe abandons the sponge, potentially causing tissue poisoning.   

The collaboration between researchers from UNSW, Heidi Luter from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and James Bell from the Victoria University of Wellington, has added an important piece to the puzzle on the impact of climate change on sponge populations around the world. 

Light pollution confuses coastal woodlouse

A woodlouse underwater.
Photo Credit: Martin Stjernstedt

Artificial night-time light confuses a color-changing coastal woodlouse, new research shows.

The sea slater is an inch-long woodlouse that lives around the high-tide line and is common in the UK and Europe.

Sea slaters forage at night and can change color to blend in and conceal themselves from predators.

The new study, by the University of Exeter, tested the effects of a single-point light source (which casts clear shadows) and “diffuse” light (similar to “skyglow” found near towns and cities).

While the single light did not interfere with the sea slaters’ camouflage, diffuse light caused them to turn paler while hiding on a dark background – making them more visible.

“With night skies getting brighter worldwide, it’s important to understand how this will affect the natural world,” said Kathryn Bullough, who led the study as part of her masters at the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“We know artificial light causes all sorts of negative effects for animals and plants, but our results show that shadow-casting light can have very different impacts to diffuse skyglow, even when both have the same overall brightness.

A Novel Technique to Observe Colloidal Particle Degradation in Real Time

Height images of nanoplastics degrading in real time, captured using high-speed atomic force microscopy. The left side shows a particle containing water, and the right side shows a water-free particle.
Image Credit: Daisuke Suzuki from Shinshu University

Researchers develop an innovative approach using atomic force microscopy to shed light on the degradation of colloidal particles

Degradation of colloidal particles is a common occurrence in nature, be it removal of waste products from cells or the natural degradation of polymers, such as plastics, in the environment. Nanoplastics are a major environmental concern, but little is known about how they are created from plastics over time. Researchers from Shinshu University have now developed a novel approach that utilizes high-speed atomic force microscopy to observe, in real time, the course of degradation of colloidal particles.

In the early 2000s, scientists from the UK made a worrisome discovery that the oceans are teeming with small particles of plastic (less than one millimeter in length) due to the continuous degradation of plastic waste. These microscopic particles of plastic have become a major environmental concern. Scientists classify these small particles as either microplastics or nanoplastics based on their size; the latter term is used exclusively for particles smaller than one micrometer.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Summit study fathoms troubled waters of ocean turbulence

Simulations performed on Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Summit supercomputer generated one of the most detailed portraits to date of how turbulence disperses heat through ocean water under realistic conditions.
Image Credit: Miles Couchman

Simulations performed on the Summit supercomputer at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory revealed new insights into the role of turbulence in mixing fluids and could open new possibilities for projecting climate change and studying fluid dynamics.

The study, published in the Journal of Turbulence, used Summit to model the dynamics of a roughly 10-meter section of ocean. That study generated one of the most detailed simulations to date of how turbulence disperses heat through seawater under realistic conditions. The lessons learned can apply to other substances, such as pollution spreading through water or air.

“We’ve never been able to do this type of analysis before, partly because we couldn’t get samples at the necessary size,” said Miles Couchman, co-author and a postdoc at the University of Cambridge. “We needed a machine-like Summit that could allow us to observe these details across the vast range of relevant scales.”

Process turns harmful pollutants into harmless substances

Conceptual image
Illustration Credit: Evan Fields/UCR

As scientists look for ways to clean up “forever chemicals” in the environment, an increasing concern is a subgroup of these pollutants that contain one or more chlorine atoms in their chemical structure.

In a recent study published in the journal Nature Water, University of California, Riverside, environmental and chemical engineering Associate Professor Jinyong Liu and UCR graduate student Jinyu Gao describe newly discovered chemical reaction pathways that destroy chlorinated forever chemicals and render them into harmless compounds.

Known formally as PFAS or poly- and per-fluoroalkyl substances, forever chemicals have been used in thousands of products ranging from potato chip bags, stain and water repellents used on fabrics, cleaning products, non-stick cookware, and fire-suppressing foams. They are so named because they persist in the environment for decades or longer due to their strong fluorine-to-carbon chemical bonds.

Chlorinated PFAS are a large group in the forever chemical family of thousands of compounds. They include a variety of non-flammable hydraulic fluids used in industry and compounds used to make chemically stable films that serve as moisture barriers in various industrial, packaging, and electronic applications.

Monday, June 12, 2023

A Baking Soda Solution for Clean Hydrogen Storage

A research team at PNNL has proposed a safe pathway to store and release clean energy based on the chemistry of baking soda.   
Image Credit: Composite image by Shannon Colson | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

In a world of continuously warmer temperatures, a growing consensus demands that energy sources have zero, or next-to-zero, carbon emissions. That means growing beyond coal, oil, and natural gas by getting more energy from renewable sources.

One of the most promising renewable energy carriers is clean hydrogen, which is produced without fossil fuels.

It’s a promising idea because the most abundant element in the universe is hydrogen, found in 75 percent of all matter. Moreover, a hydrogen molecule has two paired atoms—Gemini twins that are both non-toxic and highly combustible.

Hydrogen’s combustive potential makes it an attractive subject for energy researchers around the world.

At Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a team is investigating hydrogen as a medium for storing and releasing energy, largely by cracking its chemical bonds. Much of their work is linked to the Hydrogen Materials-Advanced Research consortium (HyMARC) at the Department of Energy (DOE).

Exploring the complexities of using ladybugs as pest control

The convergent ladybug, left, and the harlequin ladybug, right, share many behavioral and life history trains, but one is deemed a weapon in the war on insects and the other the target. RIT assistant professor Kaitlin Stack Whitney uses this example to underscore how human choices are the driving force behind what is considered a pest, not nature.
Photo Credit: left: Flickr user Dru!, CC BY-NC 2.0.
Photo Credit right: Flickr user The Real Estreya, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

When creating a garden, it’s likely that most people want to make decisions that leave a positive footprint on the local environment. In an attempt to limit the use of chemical pesticides and promote native species on their land, some gardeners have begun purchasing ladybugs as a form of “natural” pest control. However, Kaitlin Stack Whitney, assistant professor in Rochester Institute of Technology’s Department of Science, Technology, and Society, says that buying ladybugs online, as opposed to attracting them naturally, can cause more harm than good to the environment.

In a recent publication in Catalyst Journal, Stack Whitney discussed the morality around employing ladybugs in a war on insect pests, as well as the nuance around which insects are considered “good” or “bad” by the general public.

“Ladybugs make up the insect family Coccinellidae. There are many different kinds of ladybug, but there are a lot of things that all ladybugs do, such as eating soft-bodied insects like aphids and other garden pests,” said Stack Whitney. “How we think about these ladybugs—which ones we celebrate and which ones we don’t—is really shaped by people’s ideas, not necessarily what the ladybugs are actually doing.”

Climate Change: Rising Rainfall, not Temperatures, Threaten Giraffe Survival

Masai giraffes in Tanzania have lower survival during seasons of heavier rainfall, which is predicted to increase under climate change.
Photo Credit: Mariola Grobelska

Giraffes in the East African savannahs are adapting surprisingly well to the rising temperatures caused by climate change. However, they are threatened by increasingly heavy rainfall, as researchers from the University of Zurich and Pennsylvania State University show.

Climate change is expected to cause widespread declines in wildlife populations worldwide. Yet, little was previously known about the combined climate and human effects on the survival rates not only of giraffes, but of any large African herbivore species. Now researchers from the University of Zurich and Pennsylvania State University have concluded a decade-long study – the largest to date – of a giraffe population in the Tarangire region of Tanzania. The study area spanned more than a thousand square kilometers, including areas inside and outside protected areas. Contrary to expectations, higher temperatures were found to positively affect adult giraffe survival, while rainier wet seasons negatively impacted adult and calf survival.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Study finds the best plants and bee hotels for boosting urban bee numbers

Photo Credit: Dr Kit Prendergast

The presence of more native Australian flowering plants in urban areas can help boost declining bee numbers, with new Curtin University research finding them to be the preferred source of food for both native bees and the introduced European honeybee.

The study focused on 14 sites across the Perth metropolitan area, including bushland remnants and home gardens,

Researcher Dr Kit Prendergast from the Curtin School of Molecular and Life Sciences, said the study found Australian and introduced bees preferred to visit and feed from native flowers and plants rather than exotic species, with the former particularly reliant on native flora.

“With wild bees facing a global decline, largely due to habitat loss through urbanization, it is vital to understand their preferences. Although urban areas often have a diversity of flowers compared to natural habitats, many of these flowers are exotic species,” Dr Prendergast said.

The research also helps homeowners, landscapers, landcare communities and councils with a “top ten” species to plant.

Scientists Discover what Influences Seawater Freezing Rates

Sea ice freezes faster when temperatures fluctuate.
Photo Credit: Cassie Matias

Seawater freezes faster in the presence of wind and underwater currents at temperatures below zero. This was found out by experts from the Laboratories of Multiscale Mathematical Modeling, and Climate and Environmental Physics of the Ural Federal University. They created a mathematical model and calculated the conditions of seawater freezing. The description of the model and its conclusions were published in the European Physical Journal.

"It turns out that at temperatures around zero and below, even a slight breeze affects the rate of ice formation. The fact is that the wind, just like the underwater current, causes fluctuations (jumps) in temperature, and this in turn leads to faster formation of ice crystals. In other words, with wind or underwater currents, ice freezes faster, the ice layer becomes thicker. Yes, it is looser, not as dense, but the rate of formation increases," explains study co-author Evgeniya Makoveeva, Lead Researcher at the Laboratory of Multi-Scale Mathematical Modeling of the Ural Federal University.

This happens at any temperature suitable for crystallization, the scientist adds. The effect of temperature is amplified by external noises - wind and underwater currents - that "bring" different temperatures.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Researchers warn of future ‘fish wars’ as consequence of climate change

Photo Credit: Sabrina Eickhoff

How climate change could give rise to “fish wars” between nations is the subject of a new research project awarded a £1.1m grant by the US Department of Defense.

The project, entitled “Future Fish Wars: Chasing Ocean Ecosystem Wealth”, is one of 11 to receive a total funding of $18m as part of the US Department of Defense's Minerva Research Initiative, which supports research in social and behavioral sciences on topics relevant to US national security.

The researchers aim to develop new economic theory and approaches to measure the economic value of fisheries in the context of climate change and growing geopolitical ocean conflict.

They say illegal fishing, contested claims to fishing rights and future conflicts are likely outcomes as fish swim for the poles as a result of climate change warming the oceans. 

Over three years, the research team will develop new economic theory for valuing multiple stocks of marine resources, which they will use alongside novel data on conflict and cooperative events to achieve a deeper understanding of future fisheries conflict.

MethaneMapper is poised to solve the problem of underreported methane emissions

A central difficulty in controlling greenhouse gas emissions to slow down climate change is finding them in the first place.

Such is the case with methane, a colorless, odorless gas that is the second most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere today, after carbon dioxide. Although it has a shorter life than carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it’s more than 25 times as potent as CO2 at trapping heat, and is estimated to trap 80 times more heat in the atmosphere than CO2 over 20 years.

 For that reason, curbing methane has become a priority, said UC Santa Barbara researcher Satish Kumar, a doctoral student in the Vision Research Lab of computer scientist B.S. Manjunath.

“Recently, at the 2022 International Climate Summit, methane was actually the highlight because everybody is struggling with it,” he said.

Even with reporting requirements in the U.S., methane’s invisibility means that its emissions are likely going underreported. In some cases, the discrepancies are vast, such as with the Permian Basin, an 86,000-square-mile oil and natural gas extraction field located in Texas and New Mexico that hosts tens of thousands of wells. Independent methane monitoring of the area has revealed that the site emits eight to 10 times more methane than reported by the field’s operators.

Greenhouse gas emissions at ‘an all-time high’, warn scientists

Photo Credit: Chris LeBoutillier

Human-caused global warming has continued to increase at an “unprecedented rate” since the last major assessment of the climate system published two years ago, say 50 leading scientists.

The research, published in the journal Earth System Science Data, found that human-induced warming averaged 1.14°C over the last decade and a record level of greenhouse gases is being emitted each year, equivalent to 54 billion tons of carbon dioxide. The remaining carbon budget - how much carbon dioxide can be emitted to have a better than 50% chance of holding global warming to 1.5°C - has halved over three years  

One of the researchers said the study was a “timely wake-up call” that the pace and scale of climate action has been insufficient, and it comes as climate experts meet in Bonn to prepare the ground for the major COP28 climate conference in the UAE in December, which will include a stock take of progress towards keeping global warming to 1.5°C by 2050.   

Given the speed at which the global climate system is changing, the scientists argue that policymakers, climate negotiators and civil society groups need to have access to up-to-date and robust scientific evidence on which to base decisions.

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