Archive for Scientific Research
e360.yale.org 17th December 2012
Quoted from source:
“The amount of agricultural land needed to feed the world’s population has reached its peak as a result of improved crop yields and slower population growth, and as much as 10 percent of the land currently used for farming could be “restored to Nature” within 50 years, a team of experts says. In an analysis published in the journal Population and Development Review, three researchers from Rockefeller University’s Program for the Human Environment (PHE) predict that the 1.53 billion hectares (3.78 billion) acres of arable land and farming areas that existed in 2009 could drop to 1.38 billion hectares (3.41 billion acres) by 2060. That would allow an area the size of 2 ½ Frances to be restored to natural conditions. “Happily, the cause is not exhaustion of arable land, as many have feared, but rather moderation of population and tastes and ingenuity of farmers,” said Jesse Ausubel, director of the PHE and lead author of the report. The PHE study stands in stark contrast to a recent UN report, which predicted that by 2050 another 70 million hectares of land would have to be cultivated to feed a growing population. The new report does not account for several factors that could undermine its projections, including major disruptions from climate change and the rate of development of agricultural land for biofuels.”
www.nytimes.com 15th October 2012
Quoted from source:
‘Sometime in the next few months, a single-engine Cessna will fly from Sydney to London. Converted to be able to carry extra amounts of fuel, the small plane will take 10 days for its journey, making 10 or so stops along the way. What will make this journey special is not the route or the identity of the pilot — a 41-year-old British insurance industry executive who lives in Australia — but the fuel that the aircraft will be using: diesel processed from discarded plastic trash. “I’m not some larger-than-life character, I’m just a normal bloke,” the pilot, Jeremy Rowsell, said by phone. “It’s not about me — the story is the fuel.”
The fuel in question will come from Cynar, a British company that has developed a technology that makes diesel out of so-called end-of-life plastics — material that cannot be reused and would otherwise end up in landfills. Batches of the fuel will be prepositioned along the 17,000-kilometer, or 10,500-mile, route. “The idea is to fly the whole route on plastic fuel alone and to prove that this technology works,” Mr. Rowsell said. “I’m a kind of carrier pigeon, carrying a message.” The message of the project is twofold: to highlight the issue of plastic pollution and to publicize the possibility of using plastic trash as a valuable fuel resource. As Mr. Rowsell put it: “We have a whole bunch of waste kicking about. So instead of sending it to the landfill, let’s use it.”
www.independent.co.uk 16th August 2012
Scientists have created a “systematic way of scoring the health of the world’s oceans” in an attempt to evaluate their health in the face of growing problems such as pollution, overfishing, and acidification. The Ocean Health Index (graph below) places the overall health of the world’s oceans at 60 out of 100. The worst affected areas included the territorial waters of Sierra Leone, which scored just 37 and failed in every one of the ten measures the index uses to measure the sea’s health. Measures include water quality, biodiversity, and the sustainability and productivity of local maritime industries, such as fishing and tourism. Interestingly, the survey found that waters of the coasts of developed countries such as Germany differed little on the index than those in remote areas such as Jarvis Island in the Pacific Ocean. The survey was put together by 30 scientists and published in Nature. Only 5% of countries rated over 70 whereas a third were below 50. Great Britain weighed in at 61, just above the global average but below the US (63) and Germany (73).
According to the ideas website psfk.com, students and professors from Yale University in the eastern US have discovered a type of fungi in the Amazon rainforest that can break down polyurethane (PUR), a common plastic used extensively in construction, transport, and furniture manufacture. The discovery was made as part of the university’s Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory Educational Program, which promotes discovery-based research among undergraduates. Surprisingly, the two types of Pestalotiopsis microspora fungi can survive on the polymer alone and in an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment.
Research into this kind of thing is not new. Mark Osborn, Professor of Microbial Ecology at the University of Hull, has been studying how micro-organisms adapt in natural and polluted environments. Featured in the BBC’s Costing the Earth, Prof. Osborn and a PhD student of his Jesse Harrison explained how they go to various beaches in the UK and bury plastic in the sand, recording over time the microbes that would attach themselves to it. They collected evidence that some of these micro-organisms actually degrade the plastic, or the chemicals associated with it such as PCBs, DDT, BPA, etc. However, due to the scale of the bacteria compared to the plastic waste, the length of time it would take for a piece of plastic to completely break down is not exactly fast.
Unsurprisingly, the plastics industry is not particularly happy with this line of research. Although the idea of growing plastic-eating bacteria or fungi in an anaerobic environment may sound like a controlled method of waste disposal, uncomfortable scenarios arise if these micro-organisms escape into the environment. Particularly if they have been genetically engineered so that they degrade plastic at a higher rate than they would naturally. For obvious reasons, plastic manufacturers have expressed concern about a super-bacteria that survives on a diet of plastic loose in the world.
And yet, with global annual plastic production hitting 260 million tonnes, the problem of our plastic waste is only going to get worse. Reducing, reusing, and recycling are all very well to cut back on any more plastics escaping to the environment but we do need to think about solutions that tackle those items already there. Could plastic-consuming bacteria and fungi be the answer?
www.independent.co.uk 18th February 2012
Researchers at Stanford University in California have come up with a radical new idea for tackling the problem of by-catch in the world’s oceans. By-catch is when fishermen are fishing for a target species, such as tuna, but catch other species, such as sharks, turtles, dolphins, and rays, unintentionally in the process. The phenomenon has been instrumental in radical declines of numerous species, including the Leatherback turtle whose populations have declined in the Pacific by 90% in 20 years. Now scientists have suggested that mobile marine reserves, monitored by satellites, could solve the problem. Existing static marine reserves are not adequate as endangered species simply migrate into unprotected waters. “I thought 12 years ago that we would not be able to do this, but I would say in the last 5 years the science has grown so quickly, at least in areas where we have rich data, we are on the cusp of doing this,” Larry Crowder, a professor of marine biology at Stanford, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver. “We don’t need to close the entire ocean, we only need to close the place where they are concentrated, where by-catch is particularly likely to be found, and leave the rest of the ocean open.” The main places the mobile marine reserves would focus on would be areas of high marine biodiversity such as “upwellings” (where minerals are brought to the oceans’ surfaces by rising currents) and “convergence zones”, where ocean currents collide.
During a conference held by Zero Waste Scotland in Edinburgh, LMV’s director Ed Scott-Clarke got chatting to the key-note speaker Professor Richard Thompson, who is an interviewee in Plastic Shores. Richard talked about alternative solutions for end-use plastics instead of landfill, and on this subject he mentioned a company based in Swansea called Affresol who used plastic waste to make concrete. The company piqued LMV’s interest and we got in touch with them and organised filming for today.
Tucked away in an anonymous business park on the edge of Swansea off the M4, the large warehouse of Affresol is not the most beautiful construction in the world. However, what is produced within its walls could potentially reshape our attitudes towards waste disposal and construction materials. Affresol’s Managing Director Ian McPherson explained to LMV how the process works. Plastic waste that would otherwise be ear-marked for landfill is diverted to Affresol where it is ground to a granular sand. It is then mixed with a type of resin, as well as certain thermo set polymers, to create a substance that is poured like concrete, but is stronger, more insulated, waterproof, shatterproof, and fire-retardant. In short, it is an awful lot better than conventional concrete and its scope of application could be huge.
The ‘synthetic concrete’ as the call TPR3 is especially fascinating as a material because it does not require a particular type of plastic to be made. Any mixed plastics that are useless to the recycling industry can be utilised and therefore, potentially, a huge amount of plastic waste could be diverted from landfill. One of Affresol’s biggest waste streams comes from the well-known boiler manufacturer Worcester Bosch. Although Worcester Bosch has traditionally done its best to recycle old boilers, before their work with Affresol it was only really the metal such as copper and steel that could be recovered. Plastic parts went to landfill. Now though, Affresol takes all of the boiler company’s plastic waste in a programme so successful that Worcester Bosch now take on all of British Gas’ old boilers too.
Currently however, archaic British laws are hindering the mass use of TPR3 as they state any residential building has to have a cavity wall so that the build has adequate heat efficiency. The plastic concrete manufactured on the outskirts of Swansea is so well insulated that it doesn’t need extra insulation, and yet can be used to build a house of code 5 specifications. This law does not apply to mainland Europe so this a market Affresol may think about in the future. Also, the elastic properties of the plastic in the concrete mean it is shatterproof making it an interesting alternative to regular concrete in earthquake prone areas. The accreditation process TPR3 has to go through before it is used on a wider scale is nearing an end so be sure to look out for this innovative, and completely closed-loop life cycle, material soon.
La Mode Verte has been invited to the UK government’s Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) in Edinburgh to showcase the trailer for our film ’Plastic Shores‘. We interviewed Paul Davidson, WRAP’s special advisor for plastic matters, last year and it was he who invited us to the ‘Derelict Fishing Gear in the Marine Environment‘ conference on the 9th February, held in partnership with Zero Waste Scotland. According to the conference’s press release: ‘The event is an opportunity to hear from CETMAR (Centro Tecnologico del Mar) about the findings from their recently completed 3R Fish Project and also to help inform and shape any potential interventions Zero Waste Scotland can undertake to reduce waste and increase recycling in this area.’ LMV director Ed Scott-Clarke will attend the event to talk about the problems of marine debris with various experts on the subject. Scotland, along with Wales and the Republic of Ireland, are making progressive legislative steps towards reducing their plastic waste, something England is lagging far behind on. LMV’s work with Roz Savage in the run up to the Olympics, which will be done in parallel with other national campaigns about marine conservation and pollution, will hopefully help rectify this.
Restrictions placed on hundreds of UK sheep farms as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 are to be lifted after the Food Standards Agency (FSA) found that the risk to eating lamb or mutton is now “very low”. The controls were originally placed on 9,800 upland farms holding more than 4 million sheep in Wales, northern Scotland, and northern Ireland after rain dumped contaminated water from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster some 1,600 miles away. Only 334 farms however, of which just 8 are outside Wales, have been recommended to have these restrictions lifted. The restrictions dictate that farmers had to call in officials to check their highland sheep for radioactive poisoning by the element caesium. In return, the farmers receive £1.30 per sheep. If the animal passes the test, it is allowed to be slaughtered, but if it fails then it is marked with dye and not allowed to be killed until retested 3 months down the line. These sheep can only be decontaminated naturally by being moved down from upland pastures, where caesium remains in soil and grass.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has released a report that lays out the charity’s ‘vision for a future without mega-dairies in which dairy farming stays local, small scale, and promotes good animal welfare and grazing.’ Peruse at your leisure by clicking the link below and feel free to contact the WSPA with your thoughts.
The report, called ‘Weighing Up the Economics of Dairy Farming‘, comes to the conclusion that ‘mega-dairies filled with battery cows are not the answer to Britain’s dairy industry crisis, according to leading businesswoman Deborah Meaden and the (WSPA). The Dragon’s Den star says that the business case for mega-dairies is based on “high risk economic guesswork” and is the sort of investment proposal that would never get her backing. Deborah is supporting Weighing up the Economics of Dairy Farms, the latest briefing1 from WSPA’s Not in my Cuppa campaign, set up in February 2010 to fight the industry watershed moment represented by Nocton Dairies’ controversial application for an 8,100 dairy unit. The briefing offers a third option to the much touted ‘get big or get out’ argument put forward by those promoting ‘sustainable intensification’ as the means to address growing concerns about global food security and to provide a survival strategy for struggling dairy farmers. Comparing the mega-dairy business model against the tried and tested pasture-based system widely adopted by milk producers in the UK, the briefing finds mega-dairies to be highly exposed to global price hikes and unstable markets. Also endorsed by farmers and economists, the briefing concludes that dairy farmers looking to secure their future could achieve better returns from average sized pasture-based farms.’
www.bbc.co.uk 10th august 2011
A new report published in the Current Biology has found that a new hybrid of mice holds a higher than normal resistance to pest control poisons. The report studied the rapid evolution of German and Spanish mice when they mated with Algerian members of the species. The result was that the gene combination made the offspring increasingly resistant to the drug warfarin, which is an anti-coagulant used in pesticides. The research was led by Professor Michael Kohn from Rice University in Houston, Texas, who said: ”Our study is so special because it involves hybridisation between two species of mouse that are 1.5-3 million years removed from each other. Most of the offspring… do not reproduce, they are sterile – but there is a small window, which remains open for genes to be moved from one species to the other, and that’s through a few fertile females – so there is a chance to leak genes from one species to another.” Although the hybrid mice may not look any different from normal household European mice, they have in fact the ability ‘to survive the strongest chemicals in the pest control armoury.’
By the year 2025, around 1.8 billion people will live in areas of extreme water scarcity. A new report however has suggested that desalinisation, the process whereby salt is removed from sea-water to create drinking water, may be an effective solution to the problem. Already, global desalinisation rates are dramatically increasing. By 2016, the process will be producing 10 billion gallons of freshwater, double the amount of 2008. However, too many obstacles still lie in the way of large-scale desalinisation and the process remains unviable for poorer countries. The process of desalinisation occurs through the use of reverse-osmosis membranes that allow water to pass through but prevent larger particles such as salt and ions from doing so. The technology has dramatically improved since their invention in the 1960s but they are still prone to ‘bacterial fouling’ that sees water-bourne bacteria clogging up the membranes and preventing water from passing through. Chlorine as a solution is not currently viable as the strong chemical degrades the thin membranes. Also, there is the problem of disposing of the salty brine, the by-product of the process, particularly in in-land communities. But the largest hurdle for the mass use of desalinisation plants (like the UK’s Thames Gateway facility, pictured) are their cost. Reverse-osmosis membranes are currently quite expensive and new research and development is needed to standardise the technology to drive down prices, according to Yoram Cohen, a chemical and biomolecular engineering professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
www.nytimes.com 3rd August 2011
The oil and gas industry has maintained that fracking, the process of hydraulic fracturing whereby water and toxic chemicals are injected at high pressure into the bedrock to release natural gas reserves, has absolutely no effect on drinking water supplies. The reason behind this certification, industry officials say, is that fracking occurs thousands of feet below drinking water aquifers therefore it is impossible for the chemicals used in the process to enter the water. However, a report published by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1987 describes hydraulic drilling carried out by the Kaiser Exploration and Mining Company contaminated a well belonging to a Mr James Parsons of West Virginia not 600 feet away. Furthermore, the EPA have claimed that there may be more cases out there that will never see the light of day due to sealed settlements made between fracking companies and those affected by the contaminated water. This made it impossible for EPA researchers to investigate cases due to the lawsuits. “I still don’t understand why industry should be allowed to hide problems when public safety is at stake,” said Carla Greathouse, the author of the E.P.A. report that documents a case of drinking water contamination from fracking. “If it’s so safe, let the public review all the cases.” The American Petroleum Institute has denied such claims, instead referring to ‘countless academic, federal and state investigators’ who have ‘conducted extensive research on groundwater contamination issues, and have found that drinking water contamination from fracking is highly improbable.’
www.bbc.co.uk 14th July 2011
The final day of the 63rd annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Jersey came close to chaos as pro-whaling countries walked out. Japan, Iceland, and several others left the room when 14 Latin American countries, known as the Buenos Aires Bloc, tried to force a vote on the creation of a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic. The latest drama to hit the IWC brought criticism from environmental groups who have claimed that issues of whale conservation were neglected. A compromise was finally made with delegates told to come to some sort of agreement over the coming year, or the next IWC annual meeting will begin with a vote on the South Atlantic whale sanctuary. When asked about the walkout, Japan’s deputy commissioner Joji Morishita said
“this was not a hostile move to the Latin American countries – our effort is to try to save this organisation, and it turned out ok.” This year’s meeting did have some good news however with France, Italy, and some non-governmental organisations pledging £80,000 for the research of small cetaceans such as the critically endangered Mexican vaquita.
www.telegraph.co.uk 5th July 2011
The Natural History Museum, London, has postponed its biggest research expedition in 5o years following claims by human rights groups that it could put the lives of indigenous Paraguayan people at risk. The expedition intended to explore a vast dry forest called ‘Gran Chaco’ in the country, which holds the same biodiversity as the Amazon and has yet to be studied properly. However, concern was raised that the 40 scientists, along with their backup teams, may stumble across remote indigenous tribes that live in voluntary isolation. If this were to occur, the spreading of diseases may prove fatal to local people, just as they did 500 years ago when the Spanish and the English first alighted in the New World. The safety of the scientists was also questioned as some tribes, for example the Ayoreo, carry bows and arrows. The trip is now in a consultation period as the Paraguayan government discusses the venture with the Ayoreo tribe. The Natural History Museum has said that they would not go until “all parties were happy”. The Ayoreo are particularly important as the expedition hoped to work with them to learn local knowledge of the Gran Chaco’s environment. The forest, believed to home around 150 uncontacted people (down from 5,000 in 1950), is under severe threat from soy farming.
www.seaweb.org 6th July 2011
In the absence of a global move to reduce carbon emissions, many have asked the question whether anything can really be done to reduce the effects of ocean acidification on the marine environment. A new paper, released in the journal Science, has tried to tackle this question by putting forward a number of ideas that could be implemented by local and national governments to better protect their coastlines. Although the growing amount of CO2 in our atmosphere is increasing the level of the gas absorbed by the oceans (thereby creating carbonic acid), several other factors also play a role in this process. Freshwater input from rivers, pollution, and soil erosion all affect the acidic level of seawater. Although the report, headed by Ryan Kelly of the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University, is aimed towards the United States, it’s lessons are relevant on a global scale. The first issue they tackle is to reduce acidification-related runoff. This can be done by using state funding and the Clean Water Act to prevent stormwater surges, upgrade water treatment facilities, and restore wetland areas. Secondly, in order to reduce coastal erosion (which carries with nutrient runoff and acidification-inducing fertilisers) local governing bodies should encourage vegetation growth that stabilises coastal sediment. Thirdly, “enforcement of federal emissions requirements for such industrial pollutants as nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide should provide local benefits given these pollutants’ short atmospheric resident times.” The paper insists that these more local moves challenge the commonly held belief that the problem of ocean acidification can only be dealt with on a national scale.
www.bbc.co.uk 20th June 2011
According to a new report published by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), the world’s oceans are in a far worse state than previously recognised. Factors such as over-fishing, pollution, and climate change are working together in a way putting marine life “at high risk of entering a phase of extinction…unprecedented in human history”. IPSO collected together experts in the fields of many marine science disciplines to write the report, including coral-reef specialists, toxicologists, ecologists and fishery specialists. “We’ve ended up with a picture showing that almost right across the board we’re seeing changes that are happening faster than we’d thought, or in ways that we didn’t expect to see for hundreds of years,” said Alex Rogers, IPSO’s scientific director and professor of conservation biology at Oxford University. One of the new areas discussed by the specialists is the problem of plastics in the oceans. Plastic particles, broken down in the marine environment, act as sponges for persistent organic pollutants such as DDT and PCBs. This increases the toxin uptake rate in fish that mistake plastic for food. These chemicals then bioaccumulate up the food chain causing various harmful effects. Plastic also acts as transport for algae thereby increasing the occurrence of algal blooms. Other problems are ocean acidification and coral bleaching. Five “mass extinction events” are known to have occurred in the earth’s history and, although the report says it is too early to tell, IPSO say that if mankind continues to exploit the oceans as we are, then we will cause the sixth.
www.latimes.com 15th June 2011
After nearly a century of progress, life expectancy in the United States has encountered a slight setback. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington has released data showing that out of around 3,000 counties in the country, 737 have seen female life expectancy decline between the years 1997 to 2007. The last time such setbacks have been seen in the US was during the Spanish Influenza Epidemic in 1918. Nationwide, life expectancy is still on the rise but the gap between those areas with the highest average age of death and those with lowest is widening. The worst counties, found in Appalachia, the Deep South and the lower Midwest, had an average life expectancy that was lower than such countries as Syria, Panama, and Vietnam. The researchers who conducted the study blame a combination of obesity and smoking for the poor results. In regard to the former, the latest research found 34% of the US population were obese, compared to half that in 1980. Furthermore, the rate of counties with falling life expectancy is increasing. Between 1987 and 1997, only 227 counties saw dropping female life expectancy. Communities with large immigrant populations, such as southern California, fared a lot better than average despite low income levels. On a national level, life expectancy for women is 81.3 (as of 2007) placing the US 35th in the world rankings compiled by the UN (down from 20th in 1987). Average male life expectancy is 76.7, 24th in the world (up from 32nd).
e360.yale.edu 15th June 2011
Quoted from source:
‘The Gulf of Mexico’s hypoxic zone, an oxygen-depleted area created by excessive nutrient pollution, isexpected to reach record proportions this year as a result of the extreme flooding in the Mississippi River basin, according to a forecast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Using nutrient load data compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey, scientists calculate that the hypoxic zone, also known as the “dead zone,” could cover 8,500 to 9,421 square miles, an area about the size of New Hampshire. The dead zone — which is created when algal blooms remove oxygen from the water and suffocate marine life — has reached an average 6,000 square miles during the last five years. But with the flow rate of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers nearly double the normal rate this spring, the quantity of nutrients entering the Gulf is about 35 percent higher than usual, according to NOAA. The dead zone, located along the coast, forces Gulf fishermen farther offshore.’
A new strain of the superbug MRSA has been discovered in British cows and is thought to be infecting humans. It is believed that this new strain has developed due to the overuse of antibiotics in the dairy industry to treat cows with mastitis, an inflammation of the udder tissue. A Cambridge university study, first published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, states the ‘new strain’s genetic makeup differs greatly from previous strains, which means that the ‘gold standard’ molecular tests currently used to identify MRSA…do not detect this new strain’. The lead researcher on the paper, Dr Mark Holmes, also said the antibiotic hypothesis was a credible one. The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), together with the Soil Association, Compassion in World Farming and a scientists from the University of Liverpool, have therefore called for a ban on the use of antibiotics in dairy farming in order to curb the risk of the antibiotic-resistant disease spreading throughout the UK. Overuse of antibiotics in the USA (current use stands at 24 million pounds a year compared to 3 million for the human population) is “creating enormous health problems” according to Dr. Robert Lawrence, Director of the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who was commissioned to provide recommendations for US farming industry improvements. The UK has not yet turned to super-dairies although there have been several attempts to do so. Many of the health problems associated with intensive cattle farming could be mitigated by allowing cows to graze outdoors.
Join the WSPA’s drive to prevent super-dairies from becoming the norm in the UK by signing their ‘Not in My Cuppa’ campaign.
www.huffingtonpost.com 10th June 2011
Formaldehyde and styrene were among new chemicals that have been added to the US health department’s list of chemicals that are known to cause cancer. Formaldehyde is a chemical commonly used in the manufacture of household products as well as a preservative in laboratories and mortuaries. Styrene is the main chemical in styrofoam, which is used mainly in packaging such as cups and food containers. Other chemicals designated carcinogenic by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences are Aristolochic acids (found in some plant species and used in some herbal medicines), captafol (a pesticide), cobalt-tungsten carbide (a metal in powder or hard form), certain kinds of inhalable glass wool fibers (used for insulation) and o-nitrotoluene (used in the production of dyes and chemicals). Styrene is possibly the most worrying of these chemicals due to the extent it is used in our society today. People are exposed to styrene through a number of paths including it leaching out of styrofoam containers, although experts say doses are very low in this case. Smoking and working in the manufacturing of plastics and rubber for insulation, car parts, pipes, food containers and carpet backing are other ways of increasing exposure. The chemical is associated with leukemia and lymphoma in humans, and lung cancer in mice. There are now around 240 chemicals on the NIEHS’ list.
www.independent.co.uk 27th May 2011
A small island just 600 km away from the Antarctic Peninsula has been comprehensively studied for the first time by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). Previously thought to be an “inhospitable lump of rock”, the island of South Georgia has now shown scientists (the only human inhabitants on the isle) the opposite. The survey recorded 1,445 species, many of which are unique to the island. Species include sea spiders, free-swimming worms, fish, and crustaceans. Many types of whale frequent the waters there including the blue, sperm, and killer. It is also the most important nesting ground for the King Penguin. In fact, divers from the BAS found so many types of sea-life in South Georgian waters that they still haven’t worked through all the samples. The rich biodiversity of the region has been put down to several factors including the remoteness of the island and lack of human contact. Its position beside currents that are rich in nutrients also helps sustain the diverse wildlife. Oliver Hogg, a marine ecologist with the BAS, said: “One of the reasons it’s so rich is, we suspect, that it’s a really old island. It separated from the continental land mass of South America and Antarctica about 45 million years ago so it’s had a lot of time to evolve new species and develop a really diverse ecosystem.” Warming waters though, at least in part explainable by climate change, may have a negative impact on the island’s inhabitants. ‘In the period 1925 to 2006 sea temperatures in the region rose on average by 0.9C in January and 2.3C in August in the 100 metres of water nearest the surface.’ South Georgia has been in British hands since 1775 when Captain James Cook laid claim to it, although it was briefly taken by Argentina in 1982 during the Fauklands war.
www.nationalgeographic.com 20th May 2011
The high prices of oil around the world may benefit the adoption of more renewable fuels for transport. New tests by the US Department of Defence have shown that Hydrotreated Renewable Jet (HRJ) fuel, which is kerosene derived from natural sources such as plants or animal fat, is a viable alternative to normal fossil fuels. ASTM International, the standard-setting body of the aviation, is now poised to vote on the certification of HRJ. Successful tests by the US Airforce have seen jets fly at supersonic speeds using a 50:50 composite of renewable and petroleum based fuels. The civil unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa has helped bump up oil prices, but aviation fuel is harder hit than some other types. During such shortages, refineries cut production of aviation fuel in favour or more profitable products such as diesel. Also, the tsunami and earthquake in Japan caused outages across three refineries further reducing the amount of aviation fuel on the market. The result is a 50% increase in prices over last year (a 30% increase from the beginning of 2011 alone). As fuel takes up the largest expenditure for an airline, the inevitable knock-on effect is falling profits or even losses. Although other biofuels have been put forward to replace regular petroleum fuels, none have succeeded as they either rely on fossil fuels to power the production process or are too energy intensive. HRJ is different however as it relies upon hydrogen to turn natural materials into fuel. The diversity of the feedstock is also hugely beneficial.
www.telegraph.co.uk 12th May 2011
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has released a paper that states the consumption of resources by wealthy nations must be ‘decoupled’ from economic growth. As it stands today, the world uses around 60 billion tonnes of resources per year but, under a business as usual scenario, this figure could leap to 140 billion by 2050. Per capita in developed countries, this accounts for 16 tonnes of resources consumed annually. This is compared to an average of 4 tonnes per person in India. Achim Steiner, the head of UNEP, said that if developed countries don’t start doing ‘more with less’, then resources such as iron ore, timber, fossil fuels, and fish will begin to run out (many are already running out). “Decoupling makes sense on all the economic, social and environmental dials,” he said. “People believe environmental ‘bads’ are the price we must pay for economic ‘goods.’ However, we cannot, and need not, continue to act as if this trade-off is inevitable. Decoupling is part of a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy needed in order to stimulate growth, generate decent kinds of employment and eradicate poverty in a way that keeps humanity’s footprint within planetary boundaries.”
e360.yale.edu 6th May 2011
Quoted from source:
‘Endosulfan — an insecticide that has been linked to birth defects, cancer, and retardation — has been banned by the 127 governments that belong to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants. The organochlorine insectcide has been widely sprayed on cotton, coffee, tea, cashews and other crops, and studies have shown a high incidence of developmental and reproductive damage in rural communities where Endosulfan has been heavily used. Endosulfan is the 22nd chemical to be placed on the United Nations’ list of persistent organic pollutants to be eliminated worldwide. The ban, approved at a meeting in Geneva this week, will take effect next year, although certain limited uses may be permitted until a final phase-out in 2017. Eighty nations have already banned the insecticide. The impacts of Endosulfan have been particularly severe in the Indian state of Kerala, where extensive use on cashew plantations has left thousands of people, many of them children, suffering from a host of physical and developmental illnesses.’
To find out more about the physical deformities caused by Endosulfan, visit the Endosulfan Victims website here
www.boston.com 6th May 2011
The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), a scientific coalition of 8 countries bordering the region, has announced that mercury levels in Arctic will rise 25% by 2020 unless more is done to combat emissions. The group warned that climate change will likely worsen the problem as mercury stored in permafrost will be released into waterways, which may have a profound effect on local wildlife including whales and polar bears. Although Europe, North America, and even Russia have made large gains in reducing emissions in recent years, the global output of mercury is still on the rise. This is due to countries such as China, the world’s number one mercury polluter who is responsible for about half of the global output.
(LMV note:) Mercury is one of the worst endocrine disrupting chemicals out there and can have very serious effects on animals and people alike. For the latter, look up Minamata disease: a condition that afflicted thousands of Japanese residents after a local factory dumped mercury into the local water supply. Endocrine disruption is when a chemical mimics a natural occurring hormone in the body therefore disrupting the natural order of things. Visit the University of Missouri’s Endocrine Disruptors Group to find out more.
www.telegraph.co.uk 9th April 2011
A mystery condition affecting penguin chicks on both sides of the South Atlantic has left scientists baffled. In both South Africa and Argentina, penguin colonies have been hit by feather-loss disorder that leaves chicks almost completely bald. Although the consequences of such a disorder are yet known, a research team consisting of scientists from Argentina, South Africa, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the University of Washington fear that those chicks with less feathers will be more vulnerable to the elements thereby increasing death rates. There is already evidence that bald chicks spend more time in the sun than their feathery counterparts, who prefer the shade. The condition was first discovered at a rehabilitation centre for penguins in South Africa back in 2006. During that year 56% of chicks lost their feathers. By 2007, this number had risen dramatically to 97%. Although the bald chicks do eventually grow new feathers, they do it slower than normal. Furthermore, the extra energy required to keep warm causes the bald chicks to be smaller in size and weight than a feathered chick.
The National Geographic April 2011
The Democratic Republic of Congo is an unstable country. Home to the world’s largest UN peacekeeping force (20,000 troops), the central African nation is still on the brink of civil war. However, there is an even greater threat to the Eastern part of the country. Mt. Nyiragongo, near the Rwandan border, is one of the world’s most active volcanos yet it is also one of the least studied. There have been two eruptions in the past four decades. The first, in 1977, killed several hundred in the nearby city of Goma. The second, in 2002, displaced 350,000 and destroyed 14,000 homes. Both these eruptions were minor though and resulted from fissures on the side of the volcano. Scientists are convinced that Nyiragongo is due a major eruption. If this turned out to be the case then few of the 1 million population of Goma would survive. However, many of the city’s inhabitants have moved there to escape decades of civil war in the country and have no other place to go. This was clearly demonstrated following the last eruptions when inhabitants built homes on top of the cooled lava despite warnings that any subsequent lava flows would follow roughly the same path. Estate agents, ever ready to jump on a deal, sold small lots of cooled rock for as much as $1,500. Lave is not the only threat. The nearby lake Kivu holds trillions of cubic feet of dissolved methane gas and carbon dioxide. Any major eruption from Nyiragongo would evaporate the lake’s waters and send up a deadly cloud of gas that would leave few alive in its path. Tsunamis on the lake are also possible. All these problems are imminent, according to Italian volcanologist Dario Tedesco. “Goma,” he says, “is the most dangerous city in the world.”
www.bbc.co.uk 1st April 2011
New research published in the American Chemical Society has suggested that the billions of waste chicken feathers discarded from meat processing factories could be used to make a new series of strong, lighter plastics. Feathers, like hair and fingernails, are made up of a chemically stable protein called keratin, which, once added to methyl acrylate, creates “a potential substitute for petroleum products”. The manner of the process put froward by Yiqi Yang, from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, means that the end product will contain more than 50% chicken feather fibres. ”If used as composite materials, no polyethylene or polypropylene [petroleum based chemicals] are needed. Therefore [the plastics] will be more degradable and more sustainable,” Professor Yang said to the BBC. The new material is still in the trial stages and larger scales tests are needed to test its commercial feasibility. The USA alone discards around 1 billion kilograms of chicken feathers every year.