Lighting Hazard

Greater care may need to be taken in choosing the color of outdoor LED lighting across Earth’s landscapes, as scientists warn that some hues of the modern-day lighting can be harmful to wildlife.

Researchers have spent years documenting how the brightness, color and direction of LED light affects migration, species attraction, predator-prey relationships and circadian rhythms.

A new study led by the University of Southern California finds that blue and white have the worst impacts, while the warmer yellow, amber and green LEDs are more benign.

Some creatures, like insects and sea turtles, are especially vulnerable.



Antarctica’s Largest Iceberg Is About to Die

NASA scientists reported that, after drifting for nearly 20 years, the largest iceberg ever to break away from Antarctica’s Ross Ice Shelf is about to disappear forever.

Now floating northwest of the South Georgia islands near the tail of South America, the iceberg — named B-15 — has traveled more than 6,600 miles (10,000 kilometers) from the ice shelf and is veering dangerously close to the equator.

The freewheelin’, formerly Connecticut-size iceberg first embarked on its long cruise after breaking away from the Ross Ice Shelf in 2000, NASA said. At the time, it was the largest single chunk of ice ever to split off from the shelf, measuring 160 nautical miles long and 20 nautical miles wide.

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Global Warming

Experts “grossly underestimate” the economic cost of global warming

A group of authors from several backgrounds, including Thomas Stoerk of the Environmental Defense Fund, Gernot Wagner of the Harvard University Center for the Environment, and Bob Ward of the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, have written a paper warning that the true economic damage of global warming is “grossly” underestimated.

The authors state that there is “ … mounting evidence that current economic models of the aggregate global impacts of climate change are inadequate in their treatment of uncertainty and grossly underestimate potential future risks.”

One of the key components of their analysis is that the models used currently ignore the possibility and potential for “tipping points.” These are points beyond which “… impacts accelerate, become unstoppable, or become irreversible.” An example might be the melting of the Antarctic ice sheet; this would greatly accelerate the rate of change.

The projected economic damage, which will affect the southern United States much more seriously than the north, is already daunting: 30 percent of GDP destroyed, and a world cost of $535 trillion by the end of this century using existing climate/economic models.

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Climate change has transformed much of Alaska over the past three decades

Climate change disproportionately impacts the Arctic, where rising global temperatures wrought by the burning of fossil fuels have brought rapid, fundamental changes to places like Alaska. In a new study published in Global Change Biology, researchers conclude that 67,000 square miles of land in Alaska, 13 percent of the total land, have been affected over the past three decades.

The land has been impacted by what the study calls ‘directional change,’ in which a location has experienced fundamental change in its ecology from historic levels. For example, some areas have become greener and wetter and others have dried out as glaciers shrink and wildfires rage across the state. Even trees have shifted, with treelines moving farther north to adjust to a warming Arctic.

Climate change has also disrupted the state’s historic water patterns. Melting permafrost has led to depressions, allowing wetlands to form in unusual places. This has also exacerbated erosion along the coasts, which are being tested by an ever-shorter season of sea ice.


Drought in Mauritania

Mauritania is currently facing a very serious food and nutrition insecurity situation, the worst that the country has seen in the last five years. According to the results of the latest Harmonized Framework (HF) of March 2018, 350,600 people are currently in severe food insecurity (phase 3, 4) and these figures could reach 538,446 people for the projected period of June to August 2018. These projections for the period of June-August correspond to 14 percent of the population, raising fears of a major food crisis.


Asia – Heat Wave

A searing pre-monsoon heat wave that has baked parts of South Asia for weeks killed at least 65 people during a three-day period in the southern Pakistan city of Karachi, according to a social welfare organization.

Temperatures soaring to 111 degrees Fahrenheit caused the deaths during the opening days of Ramadan, when most Muslims do not eat or drink in daylight hours. Power failures made finding relief from the heat nearly impossible for many.


Russia’s Floating Nuclear Power Plant

Russia’s got a floating nuclear plant on a barge, and it’s heading for the Bering Strait — just a short hop from Alaska.

The “Akademik Lomonosov,” according to a statement from Russian nuclear energy company Rosatom, docked in the Russian port of Murmansk on Saturday (May 19). There it will receive its supply of nuclear fuel. Tugboats will eventually haul the nuclear plant to the town of Pevek in the Russian Far East — just 53 miles (86 kilometers), as Reuters noted, from the western edge of Alaska, across the Bering Strait.

The St. Petersburg-built power plant will replace a coal plant and an older, landlocked nuclear plant. It will serve a population of about 50,000 people.

Rosatom pitches the Lomonosov as the first in a series of floating plants that will serve remote Russian communities and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

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Biodiversity Under Pressure

In what’s being called a “stunning reality check,” a new study published in the journal Science reveals that despite global efforts to safeguard biodiversity by establishing nature reserves, nearly a third of the world’s “protected land is under intense human pressure.”

While more than 90 percent of protected land worldwide has been degraded to some degree due to human activity, 32.8 percent—more than 2.3 million square miles—has been significantly impacted by human activity, according to the report.

“What we found was massive amounts of high-level human infrastructure, for example mining activity, industrial logging activity, industrial agriculture, townships, roads, and energy,” lead author James Watson, a conservation scientist at the University of Queensland in Australia, told the Guardian.

“These are the places that nations have said they are setting aside for nature’s needs not human needs,” he added. “So for us to find such a significant amount of human infrastructure in places governments have set aside for safeguarding biodiversity is staggering.”

Although the damage was most common in densely populated parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe, researchers emphasized that it is a global issue. Their findings bolster concerns generated from other recent reports that have shown that human activity—most notably, anthropogenic climate change—is causing “a major biodiversity crisis.”

One example of a protected area that has been degraded by human activity is Barrow Island in Western Australia.

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Towelette Pollution

Masses of wet wipes accumulating along riverbanks are causing concern that the waste product is altering the ecology and shape of some of the world’s waterways.

The moist towelettes and baby wipes are made with polyester or polypropylene, and are not biodegradable.

British researchers recently found more than 5,000 of them along the River Thames in an area the size of half a tennis court.

“People get confused and don’t realize that you are not supposed to flush wet wipes down the toilet,” environmental advocate Kirsten Downer of Thames 21 told The Guardian.


Mexico City – Water Shortage

One of the world’s largest cities, Mexico City is home to about 21 million people – rising to 27 million if you include the surrounding areas. About 20% of Mexico’s population lives there. By the year 2030, the authorities estimate that the population will grow to 30 million people.

Among other challenges, such a large population puts a costly strain on Mexico City’s water supplies. In fact, the parts of Mexico City’s infrastructure that supply water are crumbling. Its natural water reserves are also at risk; if trends continue, they are expected to dry out as soon as in 30 years. With so many people affected, this means one of the world’s largest water crises is in the making on the doorstep of the US.

Located more than 2,000m above sea level, the city is subject to heavy rainfall. The wet season between June and September, in particular, brings frequent flash floods.

Burst pipes aren’t the only reason that Mexico City’s sewage overflows. Rubbish disposed of on the streets often clogs pipe drains, backing up the system. That can have serious consequences quickly, since Mexico City produces about 40,000 litres of sewage every second.

Despite flooding events and heavy rainfall, the city is facing a water shortage. Much of this is because of the inefficient and ageing infrastructure of Mexico City’s water networks: some 40% of the water is lost.

As a result, many of the city’s inhabitants have an interrupted water supply, perhaps only being able to turn on the tap and get water twice a week.

Given Mexico City’s original geography, its lack of water may seem strange. The city was built on an island surrounded by a large natural lake basin. But when the Spanish colonised Mexico in the 1500s, they dried out the lake to build a bigger city.

This means that deep underground, Mexico City has fresh water reservoirs – which the city still depends on for about 40% of its water. But the shortage of water in the city means these natural water reserves are being emptied at a rate faster than they can be filled, especially during months of prolonged drought in the dry season. Projections show that the aquifers could be depleted in 30 to 50 years, if current exploitation trends continue.


Nuclear Bomb Test Moved North Korea Mountain

North Korea conducted its latest nuclear test at Punggye-ri on Sept. 3, and it was the most massive one yet, registering on sensors as a 6.3-magnitude earthquake. Around 8 minutes later, geologists detected a smaller rumbling of 4.1 magnitude that got scientists speculating: Could the nuclear test site, hidden inside a mountain, have collapsed?

A massive collapse could render the test site useless for future nuclear tests and may even increase the risk of radioactive gases escaping from the rock and into the air, scientists said.

The case for this so-called “tired mountain syndrome” was bolstered three weeks ago, when North Korea announced that it planned to shut the main testing facility at Mount Mantap where five of the six tests, including the last explosion, took place. A few weeks ago, a group of Chinese geologists claimed in a study published in Geophysical Research Letters that the mountain had collapsed following the latest nuclear test.

Now, scientists reporting today (May 10) in the journal Science have used satellite images to find that Mount Mantap indeed moved and compressed following the explosion. But according to the scientists, the mountain and test sites probably didn’t collapse completely.


Monster ocean wave sets southern hemisphere record

Scientists have recorded what is believed to be the largest wave ever in the southern hemisphere, a 23.8 metre monster the height of an eight-floor building.

A buoy recorded the wave on Tuesday during a ferocious storm in the notoriously wild Southern Ocean near Campbell Island, some 700 kilometres south of New Zealand, research body MetOcean Solutions said.

Senior oceanographer Tom Durrant said it wiped out the previous southern-hemisphere record of 22.03 metres recorded in 2012.

Durrant added that even bigger waves topping 25 metres were probably whipped up by the storm, which tracked east through the area on Tuesday, but the buoy was not in the best place to record them. He said the buoy, installed in March to measure the extreme conditions in the Southern Ocean, also only recorded for a 20-minute burst every three hours to conserve its batteries.



Massive ‘Dead Zone’ in the Arabian Sea

A massive “dead zone” in the Arabian Sea is the largest in the world, a new study reveals.

Dead zones are oxygen-starved ocean regions where few organisms can survive. They emerge in ocean depths ranging from 650 to 2,600 feet (200 to 800 meters), when influxes of chemical nutrients — typically from human pollution — spur algae growth, which sucks up oxygen. A significant oxygen-deprived region has bloomed in the Gulf of Oman for decades, but it was last surveyed in the 1990s.

Recently, researchers returned to the Gulf of Oman and found that the dead zone has expanded far more than expected, raising serious concerns about the future of local fisheries and ecosystems, researchers reported in a new study.


Most Polluted Cities

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) global air pollution database released in Geneva, India has 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world in terms of PM 2.5 concentrations — the worst being Kanpur with a PM 2.5 concentration of 173 micrograms per cubic metre, followed by Faridabad, Varanasi and Gaya.

The report states that 9 in 10 people in the world breathe polluted air. In a statement, it said 7 million people die every year because of outdoor and household air pollution. “Ambient air pollution alone caused some 4.2 million deaths in 2016, while household air pollution from cooking with polluting fuels and technologies caused an estimated 3.8 million deaths in the same period,” it said.

More than 90% of air pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, mainly in Asia and Africa, followed by low- and middle-income countries in the eastern Mediterranean region, Europe and the Americas.


Arboreal ‘Heartbeat’

Dutch researchers say they have found evidence of a kind of “heartbeat” in trees that causes them to change shape in a regular rhythm that is much shorter than a day-night cycle.

András Zlinszky and colleague Anders Barfod at Aarhus University scanned 21 species of trees in windless and lightless conditions and found seesaw oscillations in branches that were most pronounced in magnolia trees.

Branches move up and down an average of 0.6 inch during cycles that are 2 to 6 hours in duration.

The pair thinks the pulses are evidence that trees have a “heartbeat” in which they actively squeeze water upward from their roots.


Another Kenyan Fracture

A second massive crack has ripped through the Kenyan landscape, but geologists assure nervous residents that neither means their country will break apart anytime soon.

They say both fissures were caused by heavy rains that soaked the area, causing the volcanic soil beneath to give way.

The latest “fault line” near the town of Naivasha is more than a mile long and has destroyed crops and forced at least 16 families to move to safer ground. The earlier fissure, about 20 miles to the southeast, severed a road and forced other people to flee in late March.

Scientists say a growing split in the African tectonic plate will eventually cause a slice of Africa to break away.

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Coral Shield

Australian scientists have developed a “sun shield” they hope can save the Great Barrier Reef from the coral bleaching that has ravaged the reef since 2016.

The shield is an ultra-thin biodegradable film that floats on the ocean’s surface. The shield contains calcium carbonate — the same compound corals use to make their hard skeletons.

While it would be impractical to deploy the film over the entire 135,000-square-mile reef, the scientists say it could be selectively placed to protect the most precious or high-risk areas.