Category Archives: Environment

Map of the day: Farmland soil compaction


From the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization:

The effects of compaction on soil health are variable but they often result in the creation of impermeable soil layers close to the surface and local waterlogging. Compaction of the subsoil occurs under external pressure and may create impermeable layers within the soil that limit the nutrient and water cycles. The most common causes are a strong concentration of livestock particularly in drier climates around water-points, and the use of heavy machinery and inappropriate tilling practices, mostly undertaken in industrialized agriculture.

The effects of compaction on soil health are variable but they often result in the creation of impermeable soil layers close to the surface and local waterlogging. Compaction of the subsoil occurs under external pressure and may create impermeable layers within the soil that limit the nutrient and water cycles. The most common causes are a strong concentration of livestock particularly in drier climates around water-points, and the use of heavy machinery and inappropriate tilling practices, mostly undertaken in industrialized agriculture.

Ocean acidification is killing Florida coral reefs


Carysfort 2016 – The extensive thickets of staghorn corals are gone today replaced by a structure-less bottom littered with the decaying skeletons of staghorn coral. Credit: Chris Langdon, Ph.D.

Carysfort 2016 – The extensive thickets of staghorn corals are gone today replaced by a structure-less bottom littered with the decaying skeletons of staghorn coral. Credit: Chris Langdon, Ph.D.

Add carbon dioxide to water and you get carbonic acid, the same stuff the gives the tartness to carbonated soft drinks, and when rains pass through air overladen with COs, a dilute form of carbonic acid is created.

Coral reefs and the shellfish are especially susceptible to the corrosive effects of carbonic acid, so when we pour CO2, we’re acidifying the world’s oceans and turning them into a medium inimical to many of the creatures populating them.

Coral reefs are critical to the ocean ecology, and provide shelter for many of the fish on which much of humanity depends for their protein, particularly in Asia, where rice, the main grain staple, lacks the protein content of wheat.

Anyway, that’s one of the main reasons we’re concerned about ocean acidification, and now its corrosive effects are being felt along the shorelines of the U.S.

From the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science:

In a new study, University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science researchers found that the limestone that forms the foundation of coral reefs along the Florida Reef Tract is dissolving during the fall and winter months on many reefs in the Florida Keys. The research showed that the upper Florida Keys were the most impacted by the annual loss of reef.

Each year the oceans absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and become more acidic, a process called ocean acidification. Projections, based largely on laboratory studies, led scientists to predict that ocean pH would not fall low enough to cause reefs to start dissolving until 2050-2060.

For two years, the researchers collected water samples along the 200-kilometer (124-mile) stretch of the Florida Reef Tract north of Biscayne National Park to the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary. The data provide a snapshot on the health of the reefs, and establish a baseline from which future changes can be judged.

The results showed that reef dissolution is a significant problem on reefs in the upper Keys with the loss of limestone exceeding the amount the corals are able to produce on an annual basis. As a result these reefs are expected to begin wasting away leaving less habitat for commercial and recreationally important fish species. Florida Keys’ reefs have an estimated asset value of $2.8 billion.

In the natural scheme of things in the spring and summer months, environmental conditions in the ocean, such as water temperature, light and seagrass growth, are favorable for the growth of coral limestone. While, during the fall and winter, low light and temperature conditions along with the annual decomposition of seagrass, result in a slowing, or small-scale loss of reef growth.

However, as atmospheric CO2 is absorbed by seawater, ocean pH declines. The result is that the natural summer growth cycle of coral is no longer large enough to offset the effects of dissolution from ocean acidification.

“We don’t have as much time as we previously thought,” said Chris Langdon, UM Rosenstiel School professor of marine biology and ecology, and a senior author of the study. “The reefs are beginning to dissolve away.”

“This is one more reason why we need to get serious about reducing carbon dioxide emission sooner rather than later,” said Langdon.

The data for the study were collected in 2009-2010. The researchers suggest that a more recent analysis should be conducted to see how the reefs are faring today.

“The worst bleaching years on record in the Florida Keys were 2014-2015, so there’s a chance the reefs could be worse now,” said Langdon.

The study, titled “Dynamics of carbonate chemistry, production and calcification of the Florida Reef Tract (2009-2010): evidence for seasonal dissolution”  [$38 to read and print — esnl] was published in the May 2 issue of the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles. The co-authors include Langdon, UM Rosenstiel School alumnae Nancy Muehllehner and Alyson Venti, and David Kadko, now at Florida International University. National Science Foundation funded the study.

Chart of the day: European CO2 emissions rise


From Eurostat [PDF]:

BLOG EU CO2

The details, from Eurostat:

Eurostat estimates that in 2015 carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion increased by 0.7% in the European Union (EU), compared with the previous year. CO2 emissions are a major contributor to global warming and account for around 80% of all EU greenhouse gas emissions. They are influenced by factors such as climate conditions, economic growth, size of the population, transport and industrial activities. Various EU energy efficiency initiatives aim to reduce emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

It should also be noted that imports and exports of energy products have an impact on CO2 emissions in the country where fossil fuels are burned: for example if coal is imported this leads to an increase in emissions, while if electricity is imported, it has no direct effect on emissions in the importing country, as these would be reported in the exporting country where it is produced.

According to Eurostat estimates, CO2 emissions rose in 2015 in a majority of EU Member States, with the highest increases being recorded in Slovakia (+9.5%), Portugal (+8.6%) and Hungary (+6.7%), followed by Belgium (+4.7%) and Bulgaria (+4.6%). Decreases were registered in eight Member States, notably in Malta (-26.9%), Estonia (-16.0%), Denmark (-9.9%), Finland (-7.4%) and Greece (-5.0%).

For infants, cleanliness leads to unhealthiness


Years ago, our maternal grandmother once declared, “Mothers worry too much about keeping their kinds clean these days. It’s downright unhealthy.”

Turns out she was right.

At least that’s what the latest researcher about the development of children’s immune systems seems to prove.

From Finland’s Aalto University:

Exposure to pathogens early in life is beneficial to the education and development of the human immune system.

Over the past few decades, the healthcare community has observed an intriguing phenomenon: diseases related to the immune system – type 1 diabetes, and other autoimmune diseases, allergies, and the like – have taken hold in countries that have thriving, modern economies, while barely making a mark in the developing world. One of the best-supported theories to explain this peculiar public health pattern has been dubbed the hygiene hypothesis. The theory is based on the premise that exposure to pathogens early in life is actually beneficial to the education and development of the human immune system.

  • Exposure to bacteria may play a pivotal role in the immune system, and that we might be able to understand what that role is by studying the human microbiome, says Aleksandar Kostic, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Ramnik Xavier at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

The work is the product of an extensive collaboration involving researchers at Aalto University, Broad Institute, University of Helsinki, the Novartis Institute of Biomedical Research, and other organizations across the globe working together as part of the DIABIMMUNE Study Group. By looking at the gut microbiomes of infants from three different countries, the team uncovered evidence that not only supports the hygiene hypothesis, but also points to interactions among bacterial species that may account, at least in part, for the spike in immune disorders seen in western societies.

Silent microbiomes

The DIABIMMUNE Study Group recruited and began collecting monthly stool samples from infants in each of the three countries: Finland, Estonia and Russian Karelia. Along with the samples, from which they would identify and quantify the bacteria that made up the infants’ gut microbiomes, they also collected lab tests and questionnaires about such topics as breastfeeding, diet, allergies, infections, and family history. They evaluated all of this data, which was collected from birth to age three from over 200 infants, to see whether connections might exist between disease incidence and what they found in the microbiome.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

The TTIP pact leaks drop like a digital bombshell


German Greenpeace activists project the leaked TOOIP documents on the walls of the Reichstag building in Berlin.

German Greenpeace activists project the leaked TPIP documents on the walls of the Reichstag building in Berlin.

The one thing the Internet does extremely well is to provide citizens of the world a first-hand look at documents the powerful try desperately to keep secret, documents we should all known about if we are to make uniformed choices about our lives.

And the latest online bombshell [previously] comes from the Netherlands, it’s subject the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — the largest trade agreement in history, negotiated in secret by representatives of corporations, banks, and national and regional governments on both sides of the Atlantic.

From Greenpeace Netherlands:

Today Greenpeace Netherlands releases secret documents of the EU-US TTIP negotiations. On www.ttip-leaks.org the documents will be made available for everyone to read, because democracy needs transparency.

“These documents make clear the scale and scope of the trade citizens of the United States and the European Union are being asked to make in pursuit of corporate profits. It is time for the negotiations to stop, and the debate to begin.

Should we be able to act when we have reasonable grounds to believe our health and wellbeing is at risk, or must we wait until the damage is done?

Were our governments serious in Paris when they said they would do what was necessary to protect the planet, and keep climate change under 1.5 degrees?

Environmental protection should not be seen as a barrier to trade, but as a safeguard for our health, and the health of future generations.

We call on citizens, civil society, politicians and businesses to engage in this debate openly and without fear. We call on the negotiators to release the latest, complete text to facilitate that discussion, and we ask that the negotiations be stopped until these questions, and many more have been answered. Until we can fully engage in a debate about the standards we and our planet need and want” – Sylvia Borren, Executive Director Greenpeace Netherlands.

A report from RT offers some context:

While the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and Europe is set to create the world’s largest free trade zone, many Europeans worry the agreement would elevate corporate interest above national interest. TTIP opponents say that cheaper goods and services would only hurt the EU and help the US.

Europeans argue that international corporations would be given power at the expensive of small and medium-sized businesses. The secrecy surrounding the negotiations has also come under fierce criticism.

Just a day before Obama’s visit to Germany, thousands of anti-TTIP protesters hit the streets of Hanover.

According to a recent survey conducted by pollsters YouGov on behalf of the Bertelsmann Foundation, only 17 percent of Germans think the TTIP is a good thing, down from 55 percent two years ago. In the United States, only 18 percent of people now support the deal, compared to 53 percent in 2014.

More from Foreign Policy, including the sense of urgency driving the Obama administration in its mania to gut the European regulatory regime:

Less than two weeks after Obama made his pitch to Europe for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, documents leaked by Greenpeace on Monday are giving many European opponents of the deal further ammunition to shoot it down. The secret documents show, among other things, “irreconcilable” differences in some areas, and that the two sides are still at odds over U.S. demands that would require the EU to break environmental protection promises.

“Discussions on cosmetics remain very difficult and the scope of common objectives fairly limited,” reads an internal note by EU trade negotiators. Because of a European ban on animal testing, “the EU and U.S. approaches remain irreconcilable and EU market access problems will therefore remain,” the note says.

Proponents of the deal, which would cover more than 800 million people, scrambled into damage control mode Monday. “In that sense, many of today’s alarmist headlines are a storm in a teacup,” Cecilia Malmström, the European Union’s trade commissioner, said in a blog post.

>snip<

If the deal gets pushed to the next administration, Obama will be forced to abandon not just TTIP, but likely the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive, 12-nation Asia trade deal that covers nearly 40 percent of global GDP. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have warned the president that there are not enough votes to get it through Congress. Obama wants both deals done before he leaves the Oval Office.

European reservations on the rise

Deutsche Welle’s report on the leak notes Obama’s central role in pushing for the pact:

In April, Obama defended the necessity of the trade deal, which would currently cover roughly one-third of global trade, prior to his arrival in Hanover, where demonstrators called for the negotiations to be suspended.

“There’s still barriers that exist that prevent businesses and individuals that are providing services to each other to be able to do so seamlessly,” Obama told British broadcaster BBC. “The main thing between the United States and Europe is trying to just break down some of the regulatory differences that make it difficult to do business back and forth.”

However, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who also serves as deputy chancellor, said the trade deal would “fail” if Washington did not offer concessions.

“The Americans want to hold on to their ‘Buy American’ idea. We can’t accept that. They don’t want to open their public tenders to European companies. For me that goes against free trade” Gabriel told German business newspaper “Handelsblatt” recently.” If the Americans stick to this position, we don’t need the free trade treaty. And TTIP will fail.”

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Oceans losing oxygen; West Coast affected early


Deoxygenation due to climate change is already detectable in some parts of the ocean. New research finds that it will likely become widespread between 2030 and 2040. Other parts of the ocean, shown in gray, will not have detectable loss of oxygen due to climate change even by 2100.

Deoxygenation due to climate change is already detectable in some parts of the ocean. New research finds that it will likely become widespread between 2030 and 2040. Other parts of the ocean, shown in gray, will not have detectable loss of oxygen due to climate change even by 2100.

The oceans are losing oxygen, and climate change is the culprit.

Areas earliest hit are the western coasts of North America and Africa and the northeastern coast of South America.

The result will be major shifts in marine life, including the development of major dead zones.

And given that much of the world depend son ocean fish for protein, the changes could portend serious human and political crises.

From the American Geophysical Union:

A drop in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the oceans due to climate change is already discernible in some parts of the world and should be evident across large parts of the ocean between 2030 and 2040, according to a new study.

Scientists know that a warming climate can be expected to gradually sap oceans of oxygen, leaving fish, crabs, squid, sea stars, and other marine life struggling to breathe. But it’s been difficult to determine whether this anticipated oxygen drain is already having a noticeable impact.

“Loss of oxygen in the ocean is one of the serious side effects of a warming atmosphere, and a major threat to marine life,” said Matthew Long, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and lead author of the study. “Since oxygen concentrations in the ocean naturally vary depending on variations in winds and temperature at the surface, it’s been challenging to attribute any deoxygenation to climate change. This new study tells us when we can expect the impact from climate change to overwhelm the natural variability.”

The study [$6 read-only, $38 to print — esnl] is published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Cutting through the natural variability

The entire ocean—from the depths to the shallows—gets its oxygen supply from the surface, either directly from the atmosphere or from phytoplankton, which release oxygen into the water through photosynthesis.

Warming surface waters, however, absorb less oxygen. And in a double whammy, the oxygen that is absorbed has a more difficult time traveling deeper into the ocean. That’s because as water heats up, it expands, becoming lighter than the water below it and less likely to sink.

Thanks to natural warming and cooling, oxygen concentrations at the sea surface are constantly changing—and those changes can linger for years or even decades deeper in the ocean.

For example, an exceptionally cold winter in the North Pacific would allow the ocean surface to soak up a large amount of oxygen. Thanks to the natural circulation pattern, that oxygen would then be carried deeper into the ocean interior, where it might still be detectable years later as it travels along its flow path. On the flip side, unusually hot weather could lead to natural “dead zones” in the ocean, where fish and other marine life cannot survive.

To cut through this natural variability and investigate the impact of climate change, the research team relied on the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model.

The scientists used output from a project that ran the model more than two dozen times for the years 1920 to 2100. Each individual run was started with miniscule variations in air temperature. As the model runs progressed, those tiny differences grew and expanded, producing a set of climate simulations useful for studying questions about variability and change.

Using the simulations to study dissolved oxygen gave the researchers guidance on how much concentrations may have varied naturally in the past. With this information, they could determine when ocean deoxygenation due to climate change is likely to become more severe than at any point in the modeled historic range.

The research team found that deoxygenation caused by climate change could already be detected in the southern Indian Ocean and parts of the eastern tropical Pacific and Atlantic basins. They also determined that more widespread detection of deoxygenation caused by climate change would be possible between 2030 and 2040. However, in some parts of the ocean, including areas off the east coasts of Africa, Australia, and Southeast Asia, deoxygenation caused by climate change was not evident even by 2100.

Picking out a global pattern

The researchers also created a visual way to distinguish between deoxygenation caused by natural processes and deoxygenation caused by climate change.

Using the same model dataset, the scientists created maps of oxygen levels in the ocean, showing which waters were oxygen-rich at the same time that others were oxygen-poor. They found they could distinguish between oxygenation patterns caused by natural weather phenomena and the pattern caused by climate change.

The pattern caused by climate change also became evident in the model runs around 2030, adding confidence to the conclusion that widespread deoxygenation due to climate change will become detectable around that time.

The maps could also be useful resources for deciding where to place instruments to monitor ocean oxygen levels in the future to get the best picture of climate change impacts. Currently ocean oxygen measurements are relatively sparse.

“We need comprehensive and sustained observations of what’s going on in the ocean to compare with what we’re learning from our models and to understand the full impact of a changing climate,” Long said.

Chart of the day: Global nuclear power capacity


The latest available compilation from the European Union’s Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research:

BLOG Nuclear