Images from NASA reveal the enduring damage in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

May 24, 2018 by  
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NASA has released more than  65,000 high-resolution aerial images of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria , which document the full extent of the ecological damage caused by the deadly hurricane in 2017. With only days remaining before the start of the 2018 hurricane season, the images from NASA reflect the impact from last year’s record-breaking storms — an impact that is still felt today. NASA gathered the images in a survey this past April, building upon similar work from the previous spring. The original mission focused on tracking long-term forest regeneration after humans abandoned land. After Maria, the mission shifted to become the first comprehensive aerial survey of the island following the devastating storm. “The photos are powerful,” NASA earth scientist Doug Morton told Earther . “[They’re] powerful reminders of the extent of damage.” In a typical year, scientists would expect to observe damage from storms on about 1 percent of the total forest canopy. In the wake of 2017, NASA images show that about 50 percent of forest canopy has suffered damage. “Every forest type we observed has clear signs of damage from the hurricane,” Morton noted. However, the forest is expected to recover. “It’s pretty much prime growing conditions,” said Morton, referring to the now-abundant sunlight and nutrient accumulation from fallen trees and leaves on the forest floor. Related: 2018 hurricane season may be worse than last year While some ecosystems in Puerto Rico may be recovering quickly, others, such as the mangrove swamps found in the island’s northeast region, are still struggling. This data is important to the team at NASA as they try to learn more about the varied resilience of diverse ecosystems found in Puerto Rico. The team also plans to use its aerial imagery and LiDAR data to better inform recovery efforts. + NASA Via Earther Images via NASA

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Images from NASA reveal the enduring damage in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

EPA to consider burning wood a ‘carbon neutral’ energy source

April 25, 2018 by  
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Earlier this week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a new policy which will classify the burning of wood as a ‘carbon neutral’ fuel source. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt unveiled this policy shift to an audience of timber industry leaders in Georgia, who have a vested interest in whether they can market wood-based fuel products as ‘green energy.’ Pruitt supported his decision by claiming that forest regrowth will lead to greater absorption of carbon dioxide and somehow counteract the cumulative greenhouse gas emissions resulting from deforestation and burning wood. Scientists, none of whom were consulted in this policy change, disagree. “Today’s announcement grants America’s foresters much-needed certainty and clarity with respect to the carbon neutrality of forest biomass,” Pruitt said in a  press release . A study published by British think-tank Chatham House concluded that when all emissions and carbon absorption is accounted for, harvesting energy from burning wood produces carbon pollution equivalent to that of coal . Further, using this method of energy to create steam may be 50 percent more carbon intensive than coal. Scientist William Moomaw, who focuses on forests and their role in climate change, told Mashable that the policy was announced with “zero consultation” of agency scientists or the EPA’s Science Advisory Board. “It’s a bad idea because anything that has carbon in it produces carbon dioxide when you burn it,” Moomaw said. “This is horrific.” Related: Iceland is replanting its forests 1,000 years after vikings razed them The EPA’s decision to inaccurately classify burning wood as carbon neutral may have global consequences. “Between this and the Europeans [who constitute the largest market for bioenergy], it means no chance of staying within the 2-degree limit,” Moomaw explained. Even if the forests do grow back to their original state, the damage will already be done. “The carbon dioxide in the air will have warmed the planet. … When the tree regrows, the glacier doesn’t regrow,” Moomaw said. “The climate change effects are irreversible. Carbon neutrality is not climate neutrality.” Via Mashable Images via Depositphotos (1)

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How forest bathing can profoundly improve your health and well-being

April 4, 2018 by  
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Dive into the practice of forest bathing. Doing so does not clean your body, per se, but rather refreshes the spirit and benefits your mood and health. Even scientific studies back forest bathing. So what are you waiting for? Discover the new trend that can make you feel more connected to the world. What is forest bathing? Since 1982, forest bathing — called shinrin-yoku — has been practiced in Japan as a means of reconnecting with nature. The Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries created forest bathing as a way to promote national health and being outdoors. While this is not an ancient practice, many see it as a cure for modern ailments. Thanks to the internet, forest bathing has dramatically increased in popularity all over the globe. For the full experience, participants walk with trained guides–experts who help people see nature in a new light. Forest bathing has many similarities to meditation — it quiets the mind and spirit, and it aims to use the five senses to experience nature as never before. The activity unfolds at a much slower pace than hiking, and the destination itself is less important than the journey. What are the benefits forest bathing? As the popularity of forest bathing increases, science has begun to provide evidence for the practice’s benefits. In a 2011 study, scientists found that people walking in nature had lower blood pressure than those in the city. Another study in Japan showed that inhaling the aroma from cedar trees boosts stress-fighting compounds in the body. Most of all, forest bathing benefits your mood. Participants have seen improvement in both focus and attention, and researchers have even linked this practice to better focus in those with ADHD . Mental conditions such as depression, stress, anxiety and anger all show improvements in people who forest bathe. Related: Tiny meditation shelters are the perfect place for hikers to connect with the forest Forest bathing also has physical benefits — during the activity, measurable differences in several bodily processes occur. The immune system increases production of white blood cells that kill disease, and blood pressure and surgical recovery time decrease as well. If these weren’t reasons enough to try forest bathing, you may be surprised by how accessible the practice is. How to forest bathe While you may forest bathe on your own, it’s better to have a certified guide take you through the process. Like therapists who take their clients through guided meditation, these professionals are trained to help people put their minds in the moment. By 2019, the world will have 450 certified forest bathing guides across 23 countries around the world, so finding one will be easier than ever. If you don’t have a forest guide near you, you can still experience forest bathing on your own. The secret is integrating all your senses. Look, listen, feel, taste and smell your surroundings as though experiencing them for the first time. Don’t carefully focus on everything. Instead, examine your surroundings and look at things that capture your attention . A soft gaze relaxes you more than the constant, close focus of modern life. Take a deep breath through your nose and notice the peculiar scent of the forest. Plants have different scents, which act as natural aromatherapy. Don’t forget the soil. Microbes in it produce a smell that may act as an antidepressant . Feel tree bark and leaves. Run dirt between your fingers. If you feel adventurous, embrace a tree trunk. The variety of textures will give your sense of touch a treat. Close your eyes, stop walking, quiet your mind and just listen. The longer you open your ears to the sounds of the forest, the more you’ll hear, boosting your experience. Sounds include more than just the chirping of birds. Listen for the wind in the trees, the scuttling of insects in the soil and the noise of larger animals deep in the woods. Though you don’t want to taste anything in a forest without a guide, you can bring natural foods and drinks with you, such as tea or fresh fruits. This will be especially effective if the fruits are native to your area. Bringing your own food allows you to taste the forest without putting yourself at risk of ingesting a toxic substance. Where to forest bathe Forest bathing locations in Japan must meet rigorous standards set by the practice’s founding organization, but elsewhere in the world, forest bathing typically can be done anywhere. Several American resorts offer forest bathing , including The Lodge at Woodloch, Blackberry Farm and Big Cedar Lodge. While many people opt for their nearest natural space, those stuck indoors can still benefit from connecting with nature. Forest bathing guides take groups outside, but for those without access to the outdoors, just connecting with nature in any way seems beneficial. A study from Texas A&M University researcher Robert Ulrich showed lowered pain, anxiety and blood pressure in those who looked at photos or paintings of nature. Though still a new practice, forest bathing has already shown great promise in treating real conditions without the side effects of medication. Next time you go outside, why not find your nearest nature trail and begin your own forest bathing experience?

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Green-roofed Czech Forestry Headquarters seeks symbiosis with the forest

March 9, 2018 by  
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Imagine if your office was set in the middle of a forest—that’s the image Chybik + Kristof aims for in their competition-winning designs for the new Czech Forestry Headquarters. Located in Hradec Králové, the office building draws direct inspiration from the surrounding forest with its liberal use of timber, a facade evocative of tree trunks, and canopy-like green roofs that encourage bird nesting. The interiors continue the vision of the forest as a workplace with a calming environment full of greenery and natural materials. The Chybik + Kristof-led design team’s “Forestry in the Forest” proposal was born from an initial site visit. When the team explored the Hradec forest beyond the Lesy ?eské republiky campus, they noticed the dramatic temperature difference between the hot campus buildings and the cool forest . “We asked ourselves what we really are forced to work in the hot interior when it would be best to take your laptop among the trees and work in an environment full of peace? Peace,” wrote the architects. Related: Paris hopes to create a forest 5 times bigger than NYC’s Central Park The forest-inspired office is centered on an open courtyard from where buildings radiate outwards, following the design philosophy that “the building grows into a forest, and the forest into the building.” Natural daylight streams through the buildings which recreate the outdoor environment with exposed timber framework indoors, hanging plants, and a natural materials and color palette. A natural trail with educational signage winds around the building and take visitors through areas planted with particular species like spruce, beech and fir, and oak and hornbeams. + Chybik + Kristof Via ArchDaily Images via Chybik + Kristof

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Green-roofed Czech Forestry Headquarters seeks symbiosis with the forest

Soldiers reportedly kill forest defenders in Cambodia after they challenged illegal loggers

January 31, 2018 by  
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Government forces reportedly attacked a forest protection ranger, conservation worker, and military police officer in a part of northeastern Cambodia that grapples with illegal logging, the Associated Press reported . The soldiers killed the forest defenders in what seemed to be retaliation after the three-person team seized equipment from illegal loggers , according to officials. Senior environmental official Keo Sopheak said, “The three were killed not by robbers or a guerrilla group but they were shot by government armed forces who backed the illegal timber cutting.” The three-person team had been patrolling the Keo Seima wildlife sanctuary , according to the Associated Press, which described them as the latest victims in a trend of environmental defenders murdered by people seeking to exploit natural resources for financial gain. They’d confiscated motorcycles and chainsaws from Vietnamese people illegally logging, Sopheak said. Per the Associated Press, security forces in Cambodia sometimes work with illegal loggers who then smuggle the timber into Vietnam nearby. Related: 2017 Goldman Environmental Prize recognizes 6 activists who risk life and limb to protect the environment On their page about the Keo Seima wildlife sanctuary, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Cambodia said the Seima Protection Forest (SPF) “boasts more than 60 species that are Globally Threatened, Near-threatened, or Data Deficient by IUCN criteria. The area is home to 25 different species of carnivore, including Tiger and seven other species of wild cat. The SPF is of international importance for the conservation of primates , Asian elephants, wild cattle, and several species of birds.” Sopheak said the civilian killed was a WCS Cambodian employee. Illicit wood trade is a multimillion dollar affair across southeast Asia , per the Associated Press, with China as a major market. The Keo Seima sanctuary reportedly contains valuable timber alongside threatened wildlife species. Via The Associated Press on The Guardian Images via Flickr ,  Depositphotos and Pixabay

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Soldiers reportedly kill forest defenders in Cambodia after they challenged illegal loggers

Adventuring Naya becomes first wolf sighted in Belgium in a century

January 23, 2018 by  
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A female wolf originally from East Germany has traveled across Europe to arrive in Belgium , marking the country’s first sighting in at least 100 years. Farmers in Belgium’s Dutch-speaking Flanders region have been notified of Naya’s presence after she killed two sheep and injured one in the town of Meerhout. While it is unlikely they are thrilled by Naya’s adventurous spirit, her arrival is nonetheless an inspiring event for a continent that long ago hunted most of its wolves to near-extinction in most places. With the Belgian sighting in the books, wolves have now officially returned to every country in mainland Europe. The nearly two-year old Naya was first tagged with a tracking device by Technical University of Dresden when she was six-months-old. However, she did not depart from her pack rooted in rural Lübtheener Heide, a region between Hamburg and Berlin , until last autumn. She has since been living the dream of traveling through Europe , first traversing the Netherlands before arriving in Belgium. “She passed through four or five natural parks in the Netherlands but she left them all after one or two days showing that she was looking for something else,” Hugh Jansman, a researcher from the Wageningen University and research center, told the Guardian . Related: Wolves return to Rome’s periphery for the first time in 100 years Data gathered from her tracking device indicates that Naya has covered between 30 and 70 kilometers per night. “I followed the places where she stayed,” said Jansman . “We found leftover roe deer and hares, so she has been eating wild animals as well, as expected. And one thing we can tell is that she has totally avoided humans, and anything to do with humans.” Naya is part of a thriving movement of European wolves returning to live in their former habitats. “ Agricultural areas are being abandoned by people so they are re-wilding again, leaving lots of space for carnivores. The countryside is being abandoned by young people who are moving to the cities,” said Jansman. “This increase in wolves numbers and distribution area is going quite rapidly. So it is not a matter of if wolves are coming to the Netherlands , and probably Belgium, but how fast.” Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Peru passes legislation to let roads slice through remote Amazon area

January 23, 2018 by  
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Part of Peru’s Amazon rainforest could be under threat with a recently passed law. The move would allow roads to be constructed in Purus, a region The Guardian describes as the country’s most remote and pristine. It is also home to isolated indigenous groups. The law declares constructing roads in border areas as a “national priority and interest”. The area includes four national parks , and could impact five reserves for indigenous people The Guardian described as living in voluntary isolation. Related: Scientists warn Amazon jungle faces “death spiral” Lizardo Cauper, head of Aidesep , a Peruvian indigenous rights organization, told The Guardian, “These projects don’t benefit indigenous people. This is an area with isolated people who are extremely vulnerable. Roads bring outsiders who traffic our land, log our timber, as well as drug traffickers and illegal miners .” According to The Guardian, the law contravenes multiple international commitments Peru has made, including ones on climate change and trade. The publication also reported that Environmental Investigation Agency Peru director Julia Urrunaga said the new law contradicts a court ruling declaring the protection of the forest in Peru’s national interest. The roads could could open up paths for deforestation – Urrunaga said 95 percent of this occurs less than six kilometers, or around 3.7 miles, away from a road. The law was announced in the country’s official gazette mere hours after Pope Francis’ visit ended; during his trip he said Amazon’s indigenous peoples have “never been so threatened in their territories as they are now,” per The Guardian , and called for an end to exploitation of timber, gold, and gas in the region. In a Friday talk in Puerto Maldonado, the pope spoke out against “pressure being exerted by big business interests,” destroying this natural habitat important for the entire Earth. Laura Furones of Global Witness told The Guardian, “This law makes a mockery of Peru’s climate change commitments and the recent visit by the pope.” Via The Guardian Images via Depositphotos ( 1 , 2 )

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Giant curtain built in Peru to study climate change in the cloud forests

January 5, 2018 by  
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Biologist Dan Metcalfe is leading a study that seeks to understand how climate change may impact the cloud forests of Peru and elsewhere by using a giant curtain to affect the local environment. A professor at Lund University in Sweden, Metcalfe describes his unprecedented plan as “an experimental approach where we actually physically try to remove clouds from a portion of the forest.” Cloud forests are unique ecosystems, which, although small in land area, provide enormous regional ecological benefits. Despite their importance, there has been little research on how climate change may impact cloud forests. Metcalfe’s study will test how the forest reacts to reduced cloud and moisture cover in hopes of understanding what is in store for these precious habitats. At only 1 percent of the world’s total forested area, cloud forests are well adapted to mountainside locations near the equator between 500-4,000 meters (1640-13,000 feet) in elevation. Cloud forests function as moisture banks for rivers and lowland habitats, storing water in its spongy soil and releasing it when needed down below during a dry spell. Many species of plants and animals are endemic to cloud forests and may face threats to their habitat due to climate change. Scientists suspect that clouds will form further uphill, leaving the forest to deal with decreased levels of moisture. Metcalfe’s experiment intends to observe what effects this change might have on the forests and those who call it home. Related: Fly through Ecuador’s cloud forest on a human-powered sky bike! After earlier curtain designs proved impractical, Metcalfe salvaged a damaged tower not longer suitable for climbing to rig up a ten-story tall curtain. Even after reaching a final plan, Metcalfe’s project continued to endure delays and obstacles. A key team member became sick, essential gear was destroyed by fire , and Metcalfe’s wife gave birth to two children, limiting travel to Peru. After four years of work, the curtain is almost finished and extensive data on the cloud forest and climate change will soon be arriving. Via the Guardian Images via William Ferguson/Wake Forest University ,  Dan Metcalfe/Lund University , and  Caroline Granycome/Flickr

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It’s so cold that frozen iguanas are falling off trees in Florida

January 5, 2018 by  
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When frigid temperatures hit Florida , most humans can go inside, snuggle up, and wait it out. Not so for iguanas. According to reports from local residents, the reptiles were falling from trees onto roads, gardens, and even windshields. This doesn’t mean all the iguanas were dead – they were stunned, and there’s a chance they could come back to live when they warmed up. Zoo Miami communications director Ron Magill told The New York Times the reptiles “literally shut down, and they can no longer hold on to the trees.” Related: Fire ants swarm into floating rafts to survive Harvey Sad part- he prolly wasn’t dead but I didn’t know how to help! My neighbours used to put out heated cinder blocks and mago during cold nights to keep them alive. Sorry buddy. #floridawinter #38degrees #frozeniguana #notgeicogecko A post shared by Kristen (@seasthaday) on Jan 4, 2018 at 4:59pm PST But the stunned iguanas may return to life. The bigger the reptile, the better the chance it will survive. Magill said, “Even if they look dead as a doornail – they’re gray and stiff – as soon as it starts to heat up and they get hit by the sun rays, it’s this rejuvenation. The ones that survive that cold streak are basically passing on that gene.” He thinks in a couple decades, iguanas might be able to endure colder climates and may start working their way north. According to BuzzFeed , Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) experts said people should leave the iguanas alone – they can bite once they thaw out. Iguanas can be six feet long; one woman shared a video of a man carrying one of the reptiles nearly as long as he is tall on Facebook: (function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = ‘https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.11’; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, ‘script’, ‘facebook-jssdk’)); I love all the Bomb Cyclone photos!!! Here’s a video for you – frozen iguana! Posted by Jenna Isola on Thursday, January 4, 2018 It’s not just the iguanas who were impacted by the cold . The FWC said a similar phenomenon can occur with sea turtles . Their news release said, “When the water temperatures drop, stunned sea turtles may float listlessly in the water or near shore. Although these turtles may appear to be dead, they are often still alive.” Check out our Facebook Live to see our staff rescue cold-stunned sea #turtles ! https://t.co/YNmLDsHT45 #Florida pic.twitter.com/hRlXrPYp0A — MyFWC (@MyFWC) January 4, 2018 Via The New York Times , the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission , and BuzzFeed Images via Maxine Bentzel on Twitter and Frank Cerabino on Twitter

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It’s so cold that frozen iguanas are falling off trees in Florida

Scientists warn CO2 from warming soils could lead to uncontrollable temperature rise

October 6, 2017 by  
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There’s a lot scientists don’t know about how global warming could impact Earth’s natural systems. Now, a 26-year-study of soil in Massachusetts’ Harvard Forest provides new insight. Researchers discovered warming soils are releasing more carbon than once thought, with the potential to lead to a tipping point , kicking off an uncontrollable increase in temperature . The scientists started the Harvard Forest experiments back in 1991. They scrutinized plots of soil, heating some to five degrees Celsius higher than normal levels with underground cables. Microbes played a role in the greater production of carbon. In the first 10 years, the scientists saw a spike in the carbon the heated plots released, and then there was a seven-year period when the release lessened – scientists think soil microbes were adjusting to the warmer conditions. But then the release of carbon increased again. The past three years has seen carbon release slow again, with researchers thinking microbes might be reorganizing. Related: Tipping points accelerated climate change in the last Ice Age, new research shows The heated plots lost around 17 percent of the carbon stored in the soil’s top 60 centimeters. Study lead author Jerry Melillo, of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts, said in a statement , “Each year, mostly from fossil fuel burning, we are releasing about 10 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere …The world’s soils contain about 3,500 billion tons of carbon. If a significant amount of that is added to the atmosphere, due to microbial activity in warmer soils, that will accelerate the global warming process. And once this self-reinforcing feedback begins, there is no easy way to turn it off.” Daniel Meltcalfe of Lund University, who was not a part of the study, told The Guardian if the findings hold across other terrestrial ecosystems, a larger amount of soil carbon might be vulnerable to decomposition than we thought. The journal Science published the study today. Scientists from institutions in Massachusetts and New Hampshire contributed to the research. Via The Guardian Images via Daniel Spiess on Flickr ( 1 , 2 )

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