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

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Tiny plastic particles are found everywhere

The researchers were out in the southern Arctic Ocean on the research vessel Polarstern and took water samples, which they analyzed for the smallest microplastic particles.
Photo Credit: Clara Leistenschneider, University of Basel

Microplastic particles can be found in the most remote ocean regions on earth. In Antarctica, pollution levels are even higher than previously assumed. This is one finding of a recent study involving researchers from the University of Basel.

It’s not the first study on microplastics in Antarctica that researchers from the University of Basel and the Alfred-Wegener Institute (AWI) have conducted. But analysis of the data from an expedition in spring 2021 shows that environmental pollution from these tiny plastic particles is a bigger problem in the remote Weddell Sea than was previously known.

The total of 17 seawater samples all indicated higher concentrations of microplastics than in previous studies. “The reason for this is the type of sampling we conducted,” says Clara Leistenschneider, doctoral candidate in the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Basel and lead author of the study.

The current study focused on particles measuring between 11 and 500 micrometers in size. The researchers collected them by pumping water into tanks, filtering it, and then analyzing it using infrared spectroscopy. Previous studies in the region had mostly collected microplastic particles out of the ocean using fine nets with a mesh size of around 300 micrometers. Smaller particles would simply pass through these plankton nets.

The results of the new study indicate that 98.3 percent of the plastic particles present in the water were smaller than 300 micrometers, meaning that they were not collected in previous samples. “Pollution in the Antarctic Ocean goes far beyond what was reported in past studies,” Leistenschneider notes. The study appears in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Deep parts of Great Barrier Reef ‘insulated’ from global warming – for now

Mesophotic corals on the Great Barrier Reef.
Photo Credit Prof Peter Mumby
Some deeper areas of the Great Barrier Reef are insulated from harmful heatwaves – but that protection will be lost if global warming continues, according to new research.

High surface temperatures have caused mass “bleaching” of the Great Barrier Reef in five of the last eight years, with the latest happening now.

Climate change projections for coral reefs are usually based on sea surface temperatures, but this overlooks the fact that deeper water does not necessarily experience the same warming as that at the surface.

The new study – led by the universities of Exeter and Queensland – examined how changing temperatures will affect mesophotic corals (depth 30-50 meters).

It found that separation between warm buoyant surface water and cooler deeper water can insulate reefs from surface heatwaves, but this protection will be lost if global warming exceeds 3°C above pre-industrial levels.

The researchers say similar patterns could occur on other reefs worldwide, but local conditions affecting how the water moves and mixes will mean the degree to which deeper water coral refuges exist and remain insulated from surface heatwaves will vary.

“Coral reefs are the canary in the coalmine, warning us of the many species and ecosystems affected by climate change,” said Dr Jennifer McWhorter, who led the research during a QUEX PhD studentship at the universities of Exeter and Queensland.

Finding New Chemistry to Capture Double the Carbon

An established carbon capture solvent can form clusters that could significantly increase the amount of carbon dioxide stored. 
Credits: Photo by Andrea Starr; Composite Graphic by Cortland Johnson
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Finding ways to capture, store, and use carbon dioxide (CO2) remains an urgent global problem. As temperatures continue to rise, keeping CO2 from entering the atmosphere can help limit warming where carbon-based fuels are still needed.

Significant progress has been made in creating affordable, practical carbon capture technologies. Carbon-capturing liquids, referred to as solvents when they are present in abundance, can efficiently grab CO2 molecules from coal-fired power plants, paper mills, and other emission sources. However, these all work through the same fundamental chemistry. Or so researchers assumed.

In a new work published in Nature Chemistry, scientists were surprised to find that a familiar solvent is even more promising than originally anticipated. New details about the solvent’s underlying structure suggest that the liquid could hold twice as much CO2 as previously thought. The newly revealed structure could also hold the key to creating a suite of carbon-based materials that could help keep even more CO2 out of the atmosphere.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) team developed the solvent several years ago and has studied it in a variety of scenarios. The team has worked to dial down the costs of using the solvent and turn up its efficiency. Last year, they revealed the least costly carbon capture system to date. It was during this research that the team noticed something odd.

Boreal forest and tundra regions worst hit over next 500 years of climate change, study shows

The boreal forest is the Earth's most significant provider of carbon storage and clean water
Photo Credit: Landon Parenteau

The boreal forest, covering much of Canada and Alaska, and the treeless shrublands to the north of the forest region, may be among the worst impacted by climate change over the next 500 years, according to a new study.

The study, led by researchers at the White Rose universities of York and Leeds, as well as Oxford and Montreal, and ETH, Switzerland, ran a widely-used climate model with different atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to assess the impact climate change could have on the distribution of ecosystems across the planet up to the year 2500.

Most climate prediction models run to the year 2100, but researchers are keen to explore longer-term projections that give a global picture of how much humans, animals and plant-life may need to adapt to climate change beyond the next century, which is important as long-lived trees adapt at scales of centuries rather than decades.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Tomorrow's reefs – the importance of environmental awareness in coral restoration

Restoration nursery in the northern Red Sea of smooth cauliflower coral (Stylophora pistillata), almost ready for reef transplantation. Classified as near-threatened, S. pistillata is native to the wider Indo-Pacific region. This nursery is at 5 metres depth, close to the Inter University Institute of Marine Science, Eilat.
Photo Credit: H Nativ/Morris Kahn Marine Research

Around the world, projects are underway to save or rebuild damaged coral reefs. However, many restoration projects fail within just a few years. Giving more consideration to current and future environmental conditions would, in many cases, improve long-term restoration success, say the researchers behind a new article published in Plos Biology.

Coral reefs are extremely valuable. An estimated 25 percent of all plants and animals in the ocean, and 1 billion people worldwide depend on them – for food, income, coastal protection or cultural traditions. But their existence is also threatened by multiple factors, such as climate change, pollution, overfishing and coastal development.

Relying on climate change mitigation alone to ensure the future viability of coral reefs is no longer realistic. Targeted efforts are now needed, and restoration of damaged coral reefs has today become a multimillion-dollar business. Nevertheless, the long-term outcome of many coral restoration projects is highly uncertain.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Research Finds Dairy Farmers Receptive to Methane-Reducing Seaweed Feed

New research led by the University of New Hampshire examines the receptiveness of organic dairy farmers across Maine to pay an average of 64 cents more per cow per day to use methane-reducing seaweed-based feed to their cows, similar to those shown here.
Photo Credit: University of New Hampshire

New England’s dairy industry continues to evolve in response to significant market challenges that include a decreased demand for milk and higher production and land costs. However, there is also ongoing evidence that organic dairy farming can provide environmental benefits — such as reducing methane emissions — which could further differentiate their products as well as help qualify farms for new government initiatives to reduce methane through innovative management practices. Researchers from the University of New Hampshire collaborated with researchers in Maine to find evidence that nearly half of organic dairy farmers would be willing to pay a little extra for methane-reducing seaweed feed but would only consider if it was cost effective, aligned with existing feeding practices and would qualify them for government policies and subsidies.     

“Dairy farmers aim to run their farms as lucrative enterprises,” said Andre Brito, associate professor of dairy cattle nutrition and management and a scientist at UNH’s New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station. “The additional cost would require serious considerations, as well as more data and an effective implementation of carbon markets in the future.” 

Older trees help to protect an endangered species

The longest-lived trees in the Pyrenees facilitate the survival of wolf lichen, a species threatened throughout Europe.
Photo Credit: Ot Pasques

The oldest trees in the forest help to prevent the disappearance of endangered species in the natural environment, according to a study led by the University of Barcelona. This is the case of the wolf lichen — threatened throughout Europe —, which now finds refuge in the oldest trees in the high mountains of the Pyrenees. This study reveals for the first time the decisive role of the oldest trees in the conservation of other living beings thanks to their characteristic and unique physiology.

Conserving the oldest trees in forests will be essential to protect biodiversity in forest ecosystems, which are increasingly affected by the impact of global change. This is stated on a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study is signed by the experts Sergi Munné-Bosch and Ot Pasques, from the Faculty of Biology and the UB Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio).

Corn reduces arsenic toxicity in soil

Corn plants in a field experiment near Liesberg, Baselland.
Photo Credit: Veronica Caggìa

When crops grow in arsenic-contaminated soil, this toxic element accumulates in the food chain. A study involving the University of Basel has now discovered a mechanism used by corn plants to reduce arsenic uptake: the key factor is a special substance released into the soil by the roots.

Arsenic is a toxic metalloid of natural origin. Arsenic-contaminated soils and waters are found all over the world, especially in southeastern Asian countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, and China. Also, Switzerland has a few natural hot spots where arsenic is found in above-average concentrations. An example is soil at Liesberg in the canton of Baselland.

“The particular problem for plants is that arsenic behaves chemically similar to phosphorus,” says Professor Klaus Schlaeppi of the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Basel. Phosphorus is an important nutrient that plants take up through special transport channels in their roots. “The arsenic enters the plants through these channels.” As a result, more and more of the toxic substance accumulates in the biomass and gets into the food chain. On the long run, this negatively affects human health. High arsenic exposure can cause neurological damage and cancer, for example.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Atmospheric Scientists Link Arctic Sea Loss Ice to Strong El Niño Events

El Niño, a climate pattern where warm waters in the eastern Pacific fuel hotter weather, is finally beginning to wane after bringing a long stretch of record heat and heavy precipitation across the world since last summer. 

A new study, published in Science Advances by researchers at the University at Albany and Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology in China, has found that these events, which typically occur once every few years, might become even stronger due to melting Arctic sea ice.

Using a combination of climate model simulations and observational data, the researchers found that the current interaction of Arctic sea ice with the atmosphere reduces the strength of El Niño events by up to 17 percent, compared to when the interaction is removed.

The amount of sea ice that survives the Arctic summer has declined 12.2 percent per decade since the late 1970s and projections show the region could experience its first ice-free summer by 2040. 

“Climate models are already projecting a strengthened El Niño in the upcoming decades due to global warming. Arctic sea ice is also projected to decline rapidly in the upcoming decades, said Aiguo Dai, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences and study co-author. 

Friday, March 29, 2024

‘Back to the Future’ to Forecast the Fate of a Dead Florida Coral Reef

Alex Modys, Ph.D., diving at the coral death assemblage in Pompano Ridge and digging up a subfossil coral, Orbicella annularis.
Photo Credit: Anton Olenik, Ph.D., Florida Atlantic University

Rising temperatures and disease outbreaks are decimating coral reefs throughout the tropics. Evidence suggests that higher latitude marine environments may provide crucial refuges for many at-risk, temperature-sensitive coral species. However, how coral populations expand into new areas and sustain themselves over time is constrained by the limited scope of modern observations. 

What can thousands of years of history tell us about what lies ahead for coral reef communities? A lot. In a new study, Florida Atlantic University researchers and collaborators provide geological insights into coral range expansions by reconstructing the composition of a Late Holocene-aged subfossil coral death assemblage in an unusual location in Southeast Florida and comparing it to modern reefs throughout the region. 

Located off one of the most densely populated and urbanized coastlines in the continental United States, the Late Holocene coral death assemblage known as “Pompano Ridge,” records a northward range expansion of tropical coral communities that occurred during a period of regional climate warming more than 2,000 years ago.

Could this happen again in the face of climate change? Going “back to the future,” this study offers a unique glimpse into what was once a vibrant coral reef assemblage and explores if history can repeat itself.

Largest ice shelf in Antarctica lurches forward once or twice each day

A side view of the Ross Ice Shelf, the largest ice shelf in Antarctica. Washington University in St. Louis seismologist Doug Wiens discovered that unexpected movements of the Ross Ice Shelf are triggered by the sudden slipping of parts of the Willans Ice Stream.
Photo Credit: Lin Padgham
(CC BY 2.0.)

In Antarctica, heavy glaciers are always on the move. Conveyor belts of ice known as ice streams are the corridors of faster flow that carry most of the vast glaciers’ ice and sediment debris out toward the ocean.

One such ice stream jostles the entire Ross Ice Shelf out of place at least once daily, according to new research from Washington University in St. Louis.

This finding is significant because of the scale of the Ross Ice Shelf: It is the largest ice shelf in Antarctica, about the same size as the country of France.

“We found that the whole shelf suddenly moves about 6 to 8 centimeters (or 3 inches) once or twice a day, triggered by a slip on an ice stream that flows into the ice shelf,” said Doug Wiens, the Robert S. Brookings Distinguished Professor of earth, environmental and planetary science​s in Arts & Sciences. “These sudden movements could potentially play a role in triggering icequakes and fractures in the ice shelf.”

The Ross Ice Shelf is a floating lip of ice that extends out over the ocean from inland glaciers.

Risk factors for faster aging in the brain revealed in new study

Governments have been urged to act decisively before 2035 to ensure global warming can be kept below 2°C by 2100.
Photo Credit: Nöel Puebla

Researchers from the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences at the University of Oxford have used data from UK Biobank participants to reveal that diabetes, traffic-related air pollution and alcohol intake are the most harmful out of 15 modifiable risk factors for dementia.

The researchers had previously identified a ‘weak spot’ in the brain, which is a specific network of higher-order regions that not only develop later during adolescence, but also show earlier degeneration in old age. They showed that this brain network is also particularly vulnerable to schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.

In this new study, published in Nature Communications, they investigated the genetic and modifiable influences on these fragile brain regions by looking at the brain scans of 40,000 UK Biobank participants aged over 45.

The researchers examined 161 risk factors for dementia, and ranked their impact on this vulnerable brain network, over and above the natural effects of age. They classified these so-called ‘modifiable’ risk factors − as they can potentially be changed throughout life to reduce the risk of dementia − into 15 broad categories: blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, weight, alcohol consumption, smoking, depressive mood, inflammation, pollution, hearing, sleep, socialization, diet, physical activity, and education.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Key Ocean Current Contains a Warning on Climate

Scientists extracted a 5.3 million-year record of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current by drilling sediment cores in the Earth’s most remote waters. Here, the drill ship JOIDES Resolution makes its way through the far southeast Pacific.
Photo Credit: Gisela Winckler

It carries more than 100 times as much water as all the world’s rivers combined. It reaches from the ocean’s surface to its bottom, and measures as much as 2,000 kilometers across. It connects the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and plays a key role in regulating global climate. Continuously swirling around the southernmost continent, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current is by far the world’s most powerful and consequential mover of water. In recent decades it has been speeding up, but scientists have been unsure whether that is connected to human-induced global warming, and whether the current might offset or amplify some of warming’s effects.

In a new study, an international research team used sediment cores from the planet’s roughest and most remote waters to chart the ACC’s relationship to climate over the last 5.3 million years. Their key discovery: During past natural climate swings, the current has moved in tandem with Earth’s temperature, slowing down during cold times and gaining speed in warm ones―speedups that abetted major losses of Antarctica’s ice. This suggests that today’s speedup will continue as human-induced warming proceeds. That could hasten the wasting of Antarctica’s ice, increase sea levels, and possibly affect the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

“This is the mightiest and fastest current on the planet. It is arguably the most important current of the Earth climate system,” said study coauthor Gisela Winckler, a geochemist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who co-led the sediment sampling expedition. The study “implies that the retreat or collapse of Antarctic ice is mechanistically linked to enhanced ACC flow, a scenario we are observing today under global warming,” she said.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Climate change will see Australia’s soil emit CO2 and add to global warming

Australian Outback
Photo Credit: Nathan March

New Curtin University research has shown the warming climate will turn Australia’s soil into a net emitter of carbon dioxide (CO2), unless action is taken.

Soil helps to keep the planet cool by absorbing carbon, however as the climate gets warmer its ability to retain carbon decreases — and in some instances can start to release some carbon back into the air.

A global research team — led by Professor Raphael Viscarra Rossel from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences— predicted the changes in the amount of carbon in Australia’s soil between now and the year 2100.

To do so, the team ran simulations using three different paths for society: an eco-focused ‘sustainable’ scenario, a ‘middle-of-the-road’ scenario and another which predicted a continued reliance on ‘fossil-fueled development’.

It found Australian soil will be a net emitter and could account for 8.3 per cent of Australia’s total current emissions under the ‘sustainable’ scenario and more than 14 per cent by 2045 under the ‘middle-of-the-road’ and ‘fossil-fueled’ scenarios.

Monday, March 25, 2024

‘Winners and losers’ as global warming forces plants uphill

Cerrado savanna in the Chapada dos Veadeiros National Park, Brazil.
Photo Credit Ana Christina

Some plant species will “win” and others will “lose” as global warming forces them to move uphill, new research shows.

Scientists examined the current range of more than 7,000 plant species in Brazil’s Cerrado savanna, and estimated shifts based on warming by 2040.

The fate of plant species will depend on where they live: lowland species can move uphill for cooler conditions, but mountain plants have nowhere to go.

The study was carried out by the universities of Exeter and Campinas, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Trinity College Dublin.

“Every plant and animal species has a ‘geographical range’ – the area where conditions are suitable for it to live,” said Mateus Silva, from the University of Exeter.

“As the climate warms, plants’ ranges are shifting, with many species going uphill.

“This is the pattern we found in the Cerrado – suggesting lowland areas may become local extinction hotspots, while mountains will host new combinations of plant species.”

Honey bees at risk for colony collapse from longer, warmer fall seasons

WSU researchers and students collect samples and perform honey bee colony health assessments in orchards near Modesto, CA.
Photo Credit: Brandon Hopkins

The famous work ethic of honey bees might spell disaster for these busy crop pollinators as the climate warms, new research indicates.

Flying shortens the lives of bees, and worker honey bees will fly to find flowers whenever the weather is right, regardless of how much honey is already in the hive. Using climate and bee population models, researchers found that increasingly long autumns with good flying weather for bees raises the likelihood of colony collapse in the spring.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, focused on the Pacific Northwest but holds implications for hives across the U.S. The researchers also modeled a promising mitigation: putting colonies into indoor cold storage, so honey bees will cluster in their hive before too many workers wear out.

“This is a case where a small amount of warming, even in the near future, will make a big impact on honey bees,” said lead author Kirti Rajagopalan, a Washington State University climate researcher. “It’s not like this is something that can be expected 80 years from now. It is a more immediate impact that needs to be planned for.”

Thousands of tons of microplastics found in Moreton Bay

Dr Elvis Okoffo has tested samples of mud from Moreton Bay for microplastics.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of University of Queensland

University of Queensland researchers estimate there could be up to 7000 tons of microplastics polluting vital ecosystems in Brisbane’s Moreton Bay.

Dr Elvis Okoffo from UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences said the team measured plastic stored within 50 surface sediment samples collected across Moreton Bay.

“The level of plastic contamination we found is equivalent to three Olympic swimming pools full of plastic or 1.5 million single use plastic bags,” Dr Okoffo said.

“The main types of plastic detected were polyethylene (PE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

“PE is used for single-use items such as plastic food wrapping, bags and bottles and PVC is used in pipes, building materials, electronics, and clothing.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Product that kills agricultural pests also deadly to native Pacific Northwest snail

Pacific sideband snail.
Photo Credit: William P. Leonard

A product used to control pest slugs on farms in multiple countries is deadly to least one type of native woodland snail endemic to the Pacific Northwest, according to scientists who say more study is needed before the product gains approval in the United States.

Dee Denver of the Oregon State University College of Science led a 10-week laboratory project that showed the effect of a biotool marketed as Nemaslug on the Pacific sideband snail. The study was published today in PLOS One.

Nemaslug is based on the organism Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita, a species of tiny, parasitic worm known as a nematode.

The speed of the Pacific sidebands’ demise depended on the concentration of Nemaslug exposure and the size and maturity of the snails, but by the end of the study all 90 were dead, whereas all 30 snails in a control group were still alive.

“This finding is a big deal because there are strong efforts to bring this commercialized nematode to U.S. markets to control invasive pests, such as the gray field slug, that cause damage to a variety of agricultural crops,” said Denver, who heads OSU’s Department of Integrated Biology and directs the university’s School of Life Sciences.

Scientists uncover evidence that microplastics are contaminating archaeological remains

The study identified 16 different microplastic polymer types across both contemporary and archived samples.
PHoto Credit: York Archaeology

Researchers have for the first-time discovered evidence of microplastic contamination in archaeological soil samples.

The study identified 16 different microplastic polymer types across both contemporary and archived samples. Pic credit: York Archaeology

The team discovered tiny microplastic particles in deposits located more than seven meters deep, in samples dating back to the first or early second century and excavated in the late 1980s.

Tiny particles

Preserving archaeology in situ has been the preferred approach to managing historical sites for a generation. However, the research team say the findings could prompt a rethink, with the tiny particles potentially compromising the preserved remains.

Microplastics are small plastic particles, ranging from 1μm (one thousandth of a millimeter) to 5mm. They come from a wide range of sources, from larger plastic pieces that have broken apart, or resin pellets used in plastic manufacturing which were frequently used in beauty products up until around 2020.

Climate change disrupts vital ecosystems in the Alps

Photo Credit: Samuel Walker

Reduced snow cover and shifting vegetation patterns in the Alps, both driven by climate change, are having major combined impacts on biodiversity and functioning of ecosystems in the high mountains, according to new research published today.

Mountain ranges covering vast areas of the world are warming much faster than surrounding lowland areas, triggering huge reductions in snow cover and rapid upward movement of dwarf-shrubs, such as heather.

Scientists at The University of Manchester have found that these changes are disrupting the timing of crucial alpine ecosystem functions performed by plants and soil microorganisms.

The research, published today in the journal Global Change Biology and funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council, shows that high mountain ecosystems may be less capable of retaining the important nutrients needed to sustain plant growth and maintain biodiversity in these harsh environments.

Featured Article

Autism and ADHD are linked to disturbed gut flora very early in life

The researchers have found links between the gut flora in babies first year of life and future diagnoses. Photo Credit:  Cheryl Holt Disturb...

Top Viewed Articles