Environment

Beijing Moves from Coal to Natural Gas

The last large coal-fired power plant in Beijing has suspended operations, with the city’s electricity now generated by natural gas, as the city battles a long term heavy smog problem. The shuttering of the Huangneng Beijing Thermal Power Plant comes on the heels of China’s annual legislative sessions, where Premier Li Keqiang promised to “make our skies blue again” in his state-of-the-nation speech.

The Huangneng plant is the fourth to be closed and replaced by gas thermal power centres between 2013 and 2017, cutting nearly 10 million tonnes in coal emissions annually. Smog has cloaked the capital for several days and is expected to continue through the week.

However, PM2.5 (harmful particulate) levels have remained between 200 and 330 micrograms per cubic metre –well above the World Health Organization’s recommended maximum average exposure of 25 micrograms per cubic metre in a 24-hour period.

The pollution often vanishes during prominent events like the legislative sessions and the 2008 Summer Olympics as authorities order factories to halt activity and force cars off the road.

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Environment

India Beats China As Worst Air-Polluted Country On Earth

India now has the world’s worst air pollution. They have beaten China. Specifically, it is New Delhi, India’s capital that has the worst air pollution on Earth.

Industrialization, coal-fired power plants, and low regulation have made the air pollution in India so much worse. Technology Review has reported that there have been 1.1 million deaths recorded last year due to air pollution in India. The country has been tied with China as having deadly air pollution. India’s rapid industrialization, too much use of coal for energy, growing population, and an ageing populace that is affected by air pollution are the factors why there are so many deaths.

Pollution Has Worked Its Way Down To The World’s Deepest Waters

The Mariana Trench in the northern Pacific is the deepest part of the world’s oceans. You might think a place that remote would be untouched by human activity.

But the Mariana Trench is polluted.

At its deepest — about 7 miles down — the water in the trench is near freezing. The pressure would crush a human like a bug. Scientists have only recently explored it.

Among them is biologist Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University in England. His team dropped what they call a mechanical “lander” down into the trench. It had cameras and water samplers and some baited traps. They didn’t really know what they’d find.

When the lander surfaced, the traps contained amphipods — shrimplike crustaceans. That wasn’t terribly surprising, as amphipods are known to live at great depths. But bringing them back from the Mariana Trench was a rarity, and Jamieson thought there might be something to learn from them. He took the creatures to an environmental scientist.

The amphipods were contaminated with PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls — toxic chemicals used for decades in industry, as well as other industrial pollutants known as persistent organic pollutants.

Every sample we had,” Jamieson says, “had contaminants in it at very high or extraordinarily high levels. How high? He compared the contamination level in his Mariana amphipods to crabs living in waters fed by one of China’s most polluted rivers, as well as amphipods from other parts of the world. “And what we were finding in the deepest place in the world were (levels) hugely higher, 50 times in some cases,” he says.

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Wildlife

Whale found dying off coast of Norway with 30 plastic bags in its stomach

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Scientists in Norway found more than 30 plastic bags and other plastic waste inside the stomach of a whale stranded off the coast. Wardens had put the whale down after realising it wasn’t going to live, and had clearly consumed a large amount of non-biodegradable waste.

Despite the huge volume of plastic clogging up the whale’s stomach, the fact it died from ingesting the waste was “not surprising”, said researchers, as the volume of plastic in our seas continues to grow.

The Cuvier’s beaked whale was found stranded in shallow waters off the island of Sotra, and was in such poor condition the wardens decided to put it down. The creature had very little blubber and was emaciated, suggesting the plastic had lead it to become malnourished.

Dr Terje Lislevand, a zoologist who studied the whale, said: “The whale’s stomach was full of plastic bags and packaging with labels in Danish and English.” He also said the intestines were probably blocked up with plastic, causing severe pain.

Mexico’s vaquita porpoise close to extinction, 30 left

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Mexico’s vaquita marina is edging closer to extinction as scientists warned Wednesday that only 30 were left despite navy efforts to intercept illegal fishing nets killing the world’s smallest porpoise. At the current rate of loss, the vaquita will likely decline to extinction by 2022, unless the current gillnet ban is maintained and effectively enforced.

An analysis of acoustic data from the upper Gulf of California in northwestern Mexico found that, as of November, only about 30 vaquitas likely remained in their habitat, the report said.

A previous census between September and December 2015 had found around 60 vaquitas. There were 200 of them in 2012 and 100 in 2014.

Authorities say the vaquitas have been dying for years in gillnets that are meant to illegally catch another endangered specie, a large fish called the totoaba. Smugglers ship the totoaba’s dried swim bladder to China, where it fetches tens of thousands of dollars and is eaten in soup.

Known as the “panda of the sea” because of the dark rings around its eyes, the 1.5-meter (five-foot) cetacean has rarely been seen alive.

In a possibly last-ditch effort to save the vaquita, scientists plan, after getting government approval, to capture specimens and put them in an enclosure in the Gulf of California where they can reproduce.

Shark Fin Fast

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Indonesia cautions that there is an urgent need for shark fin soup enthusiasts to refrain from serving or eating the dish as some of the shark species in the archipelago are nearing extinction.

WWF says about 110,000 tons of shark fins are taken from Indonesian waters each year, leading to the sharp decline in shark populations.

“Indonesia largely depends on fisheries, so this is about food security too — if all the sharks are gone, we would have to start eating plankton soup,” said WWF leader Imam Musthofa Zainudin.

Environment

Warsaw Grapples With Gray Smog

An eerie gray mist with a pervasive odour of fumes wreathed Warsaw and dozens of other Polish cities, bringing a global problem more associated with Beijing and New Delhi into the heart of Europe. It took less than half a day, on Jan. 8, for the smog levels to break all records set in the 10 years since Poland, following a directive from the European Union, put in place an air pollution monitoring system.

Warsaw city officials reacted by making all public transportation free last Monday, in an attempt to keep cars off the roads, and warned residents to stay indoors unless necessary. Pollution levels eventually dropped off toward the end of the week.

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Wildlife

Seabirds’ Plastic-Eating Habits Remain Puzzling

Imagine that you are constantly eating, but slowly starving to death. Hundreds of species of marine mammals, fish, birds, and sea turtles face this risk every day when they mistake plastic debris for food.

Plastic debris can be found in oceans around the world. Scientists have estimated that there are over five trillion pieces of plastic weighing more than a quarter of a million tons floating at sea globally. Most of this plastic debris comes from sources on land and ends up in oceans and bays due largely to poor waste management.

Plastic does not biodegrade, but at sea large pieces of plastic break down into increasingly smaller fragments that are easy for animals to consume. Nothing good comes to animals that mistake plastic for a meal. They may suffer from malnutrition, intestinal blockage, or slow poisoning from chemicals in or attached to the plastic.

Despite the pervasiveness and severity of this problem, scientists still do not fully understand why so many marine animals make this mistake in the first place. It has been commonly assumed, but rarely tested, that seabirds eat plastic debris because it looks like the birds’ natural prey. However, in a study that my coauthors and I just published in Science Advances, we propose a new explanation: For many imperiled species, marine plastic debris also produces an odour that the birds associate with food.

A new study, just out in the journal Science Advances, may shed some light on the mystery . The study finds that plastic in the ocean gives off a specific chemical compound with a distinctive smell, signalling to some seabirds that it’s dinnertime.

Nature – Images

Interesting Images

A river in Russia has turned bright red. The Siberian Times reported on Sept. 7 that the Daldykan River near the city of Norilsk had turned the colour of blood, with locals pointing fingers at the nearby Nadezhda Metallurgical Plant, owned by the company Norilsk Nickel. In fact, a broken pipeline at the plant may be the culprit, according to a statement from the Russian Ministry of Natural Resources. The company, however, has denied any accidental discharge of pollutants.

Norilsk is no stranger to struggles with pollution. In 2007, the city appeared on the top 10 list of worst-polluted places on Earth, in a report released by the environmental group the Blacksmith Institute. The city also consistently ranks as the most-polluted city in Russia, according to government statistics.

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Wildlife

Crab Congress

Untold numbers of giant spider crabs have amassed in the waters near Australia’s second-largest city of Melbourne in a gathering some experts believe is associated with moulting.

The hundreds of thousands of crustaceans that have congregated in Port Phillip Bay could be there for “safety in numbers” as they shed their hard outer shells in order to grow. They are more vulnerable to such predators as cormorants and stingrays during moult.

While the gathering probably happens each year, it was virtually unknown to local communities until underwater photographer Sheree Marris released a video that documented the phenomenon.

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Polluting the Deep

High levels of man-made persistent organic pollutants have been found in tiny creatures collected in the world’s deepest ocean trenches.

Shrimplike crustaceans, called amphipods, captured in the Marianas Trench and the Kermadec Trench were found contaminated with PCBs, once used in plastics manufacturing, and PBDEs, which are the main ingredients in flame retardants.

The levels of PCBs in the Marianas Trench amphipods were higher than in the estuaries of China’s most polluted rivers, researcher Alan Jamieson told Nature.

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Wildlife

Surplus Elephants

African conservationists next month will begin moving up to 500 elephants from several parts of the continent to a Malawi wildlife reserve, where wildlife advocates eventually hope to protect the pachyderms from being poached into extinction.

The elephants will be tranquilized with darts fired from helicopters, then trucked to the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve.

The nonprofit group African Parks, based in Johannesburg, plans to relocate “surplus elephants” from areas where growing populations are causing conflict and ecological damage.

Pollution of the Deep

High levels of man-made persistent organic pollutants have been found in tiny creatures collected in the world’s deepest ocean trenches.

Shrimplike crustaceans, called amphipods, captured in the Marianas Trench and the Kermadec Trench were found contaminated with PCBs, once used in plastics manufacturing, and PBDEs, which are the main ingredients in flame retardants.

The levels of PCBs in the Marianas Trench amphipods were higher than in the estuaries of China’s most polluted rivers, researcher Alan Jamieson told Nature.

Wildlife

Fish prefer to eat plastic over food – and it is killing them

Microplastic particles appear to be killing fish because their larvae prefer to eat them rather than their actual food, researchers have warned.

With fears that the amount of plastic in the oceans could soon equal the weight of fish in the sea, scientists have become increasingly concerned about the effects on the marine environment.

Now a study published in the journal Science has found that baby perch will actively choose to eat plastic over the plankton they would normally feed on. The researchers said this greatly increased mortality rates of the perch, stunting their growth and appearing to change usually innate behaviour. For example, they seemed to lose the ability to smell a predator that made them much more vulnerable.

When placed in a tank with a pike, perch exposed to microplastic were eaten four times more quickly than perch that had not been eating plastic. All the plastic-fed fish had been killed within 48 hours.

Microplastic is produced as larger pieces of plastic waste are broken down in the environment, but vast amounts of microfibers from synthetic clothes – things such as fleeces are essentially made of plastic – are produced each time they are washed and are small enough to pass through sewerage treatment plants and get into the sea. Cosmetics companies are also continuing to put plastic microbeads into their products.

Environment

Farm Pollution

Agriculture has become the leading source of fine-particulate air pollution in many parts of the United States, Europe, Russia and China, according to a new study.

Writing in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, scientists from NASA and Columbia University warn that fumes from nitrogen-rich fertilizers and animal waste combine in the air with carbon emissions to form solid particles that constitute a major contributor to disease and death.

But they say that if emissions decline as predicted, the fine-particle pollution will go down even if fertilizer use expands.

Environment

Mexico City Declares 3rd Day Of Traffic Cuts Over High Smog

Mexico City is ordering 40 percent of cars and trucks to stay off the streets Thursday, extending for a third day a traffic cutback aimed at lessening pollution.

Under a rule in effect through June, one-fifth of the city’s vehicles normally must stay at home on a weekday, with the day determined by license plate numbers. But on Wednesday, smog stayed above 1 and a half times acceptable limits for a third straight day, meaning an additional 20 percent of vehicles can’t be used Thursday.

Ozone, a key component of smog, reached 1.9 times acceptable limits. The metropolitan environmental commission blamed Mexico City’s typical spring weather: hot, dry weather, a lack of wind and sunny days that favor the creation of ozone.

Wildlife

Plastic found inside beached whales

A post-mortem conducted on 13 beached sperm whales – found ashore near the town of Toenning in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, found their stomachs were filled with plastic.

This plastic included a 13m fisherman’s net and a 70cm piece of plastic from a car. But scientists believed the whales did not die because they ingested plastic, but rather that their hearts failed due to starvation.

Schleswig-Holstein environment minister Robert Habeck said: “These findings show us the results of our plastic-orientated society. Animals inadvertently consume plastic and plastic waste, which causes them to suffer and, at worst, causes them to starve with full stomachs.”

The whales were all male, between 10 and 15 years old, and severely underweight. They all weighed around 15t and the average weight of a sperm whale is between 32t and 41t.

Experts believe storms in the northeast Atlantic shifted the whales’ food source into the North Sea. The whales followed the food source and found themselves stranded in shallow water, where they starved to death.

This news comes after six dead sperm whales were found beached in Norfolk in February.

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Environment

More cars banned in Mexico City after pollution alert

More cars were ordered off Mexico City’s streets on Wednesday after a surge in pollution prompted authorities to issue the first air quality alert in 14 years.

After older vehicles were kept off the streets on Monday and Tuesday, the Environmental Commission of the megalopolis decided to expand the ban on Wednesday to include all cars with license plates that have red stickers and end in the numbers three and four.

The extraordinary measures were imposed following an increase in ozone concentration, which can cause respiratory and heart ailments.

Federal authorities ordered factories in the greater Mexico City area to slash their emissions by 40 per cent.

The last time the air quality emergency was issued was in September 2002.

Environment

Environment behind nearly quarter of global deaths: WHO

One in four deaths worldwide are due to environmental factors like air, water and soil pollution, as well as unsafe roads and workplace stress, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday.

An estimated 12.6 million people died in 2012 as a result of living and working in unhealthy environments, 23 percent of all deaths reported globally, according to the new study.

“If countries do not take actions to make environments where people live and work healthy, millions will continue to become ill and die too young,” warned WHO chief Margaret Chan in a statement.

The report defines environmental causes broadly, drawing links between a long line of environmental risk factors like pollution, chemical exposure, climate change and ultraviolet radiation, as well as access to firearms and more than 100 diseases and injuries.

As many as 8.2 million of the deaths could be blamed on air pollution, including exposure to second-hand smoke, which is responsible for heart disease, cancers and chronic respiratory disease, the report said.

Among the deaths attributed to environmental factors were 1.7 million caused by “unintentional injuries”, including road accidents.

The report also counted 846,000 diarrhoeal disease deaths among environmental mortalities, adding that many were linked to pollution and unsafe drinking water.

The report found that most environmentally-linked deaths happened in Southeast Asia, which accounted for 3.8 million such deaths in 2012, followed by the Western Pacific region with 3.5 million.

The least affected region was the Americas, with 847,000 deaths blamed on environmental conditions.

Europe had 1.4 million environmentally-linked deaths while Africa reported 2.2 million.

The WHO said that better environmental management could prevent the deaths of 1.7 million children under five, who are especially prone to serious illnesses arising from respiratory infections and diarrhoea.

Environment

Researchers find plastic-eating bacteria in recycling plant

Plastic is everywhere around us. We drink out of plastic cups, buy disposable water bottles, unwrap new electronics from plastic packaging, take home plastic shopping bags, and even wear plastic in polyester fabrics.

Some 311 million tons of plastic is produced across the globe annually, and just 10 percent makes it back to a recycling plant. The rest ends up in landfills, or as litter on land or in the ocean, where it remains for decades and longer.

As for the plastic that has been recycled, it has given rise to an unintended side effect: A team of scientists searching through sediments at a plastic bottle recycling plant in Osaka, Japan have found a strain of bacteria that has evolved to consume the most common type of plastic.

Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6 can degrade poly (ethylene terephthalate), commonly called PET or PETE, in as little as six weeks, they report in a new paper published Thursday in the journal Science. Common uses of PET include polyester fibers, disposable bottles, and food containers.

However, more research needs to be done to find practical applications for the bacteria which, although is can degrade the plastic, is also able to subsist independently, having many options in nature for food.