Light pollution, habitat loss and pesticides push fireflies toward extinction

February 7, 2020 by  
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There are more than 2,000 species of fireflies, and scientists are sounding the alarm that some of these species are on the brink of extinction . Research published in BioScience indicates that habitat loss, light pollution and pesticides are threatening these delightful insects. According to Tufts University biology professor Sara Lewis, the study’s lead author, “If people want fireflies around in the future, we need to look at this seriously. Fireflies are incredibly attractive insects, perhaps the most beloved of all insects, because they are so conspicuous, so magical.” Related: New Animal Endangerment Map shows global distribution of threatened animal species Habitat loss is the main culprit disrupting the environmental conditions and cues conducive to firefly development and lifecycle completion. One example cited was the Malaysian firefly species Pteroptyx tener , which needs particular mangroves and plants to breed appropriately, but their mangrove swamp habitats have been displaced by aquaculture farms and palm oil plantations. The second issue leaving fireflies vulnerable is light pollution . As CNN reported, light pollution can arise from “streetlights and commercial signs and skyglow, a more diffuse illumination that spreads beyond urban centers and can be brighter than a full moon.” Artificial lights can interfere with firefly courtship. Male fireflies flash particular bioluminescent patterns to attract females, who must flash responses in return. Unfortunately, artificial lights can mimic and thus confuse the signals. Or, worse yet, light pollution can be too bright for the fireflies to emit and properly recognize their ritual signals for mating to be initiated or completed. Thirdly, pesticides have been a significant driving factor in the decline of firefly populations. The Center for Biological Diversity has documented that “Systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids that get into the soil and water harm firefly larvae and their prey. Also, because fireflies are generally found in wetland habitats, they are threatened by insecticide spraying targeting mosquitoes.” As a result, the larvae either starve or have developmental anomalies that prevent population growth. Public outcries by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Firefly Specialist Group as well as the Fireflyers International Network have raised some awareness about the dwindling firefly populations. Yet, as stated by the Center for Biological Diversity, “There are at least 125 species of fireflies in the United States, but despite the many threats they face, none are protected by the Endangered Species Act.” To protect these luminous insects that have long captivated the imagination with their fairytale-like lights, much work still needs to be done, especially given the U.K. Wildlife Trusts ’ similar report on the ‘quiet apocalypse’ taking place now, wherein 41% of global insect species face extinction. + BioScience Via CNN , the Center for Biological Diversity and The Guardian Image via Shutterstock

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Light pollution, habitat loss and pesticides push fireflies toward extinction

Sustainable agriculture cleans up rivers in Cuba

February 7, 2020 by  
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New scientific findings reveal that Cuba’s rivers are in better health than the Mississippi River. The research was a joint effort between Cuba and the United States, marking the two countries’ first collaboration in more than 60 years. The work was part of a study on Cuba’s hydrology, focusing on the water quality of the island’s rivers. Despite centuries of cattle and sugarcane farming, research results reveal there hasn’t been much damage to Cuba’s rivers thanks to the country’s other sustainable agriculture methods. Compared to the Mississippi River, Cuba’s 25 rivers surveyed showed lower nutrient concentration of phosphorus and nitrogen pollution. This is likely attributed to Cuba’s shift toward sustainable agriculture , particularly the country’s shunning of imported synthetic chemicals. Related: Dutch company collects plastic pollution from rivers to make parks and products “A lot of stories about the value of Cuba’s shift to conservation agriculture have been based on fuzzy, feel-good evidence,” explained geologist and researcher Paul Bierman. “This study provides hard data that a crucial part of this story is true.” By contrast, the U.S. has more widespread dependence on chemical fertilizers . Hence, dead zones occur where the Mississippi River mouth opens into the Gulf of Mexico, adversely affecting the region’s marine ecosystems with dangerous bacterial and algal blooms caused by elevated nitrogen levels. Another interesting finding is that even though more than 80% of the Cuban river samples had E. coli bacteria, the source was found to be from fecal material by cattle and horses grazing along the riverbanks. The research team believes that this is partly attributed to “Cuba’s intensive use of horses and other draft animals for transportation and farm work.” The researchers concluded that the island country has been committed to promoting more sustainable agriculture to improve both its soil and water. The efforts have led to promising results. The American team was comprised of University of Vermont geologist Paul Bierman and Oberlin College geoscientist Amanda Schmidt. The Cuban team was led by Rita Hernández, representing the Cienfuegos Center for Environmental Studies, an ecological research group. Their joint research, supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, was recently published in the GSA Today journal of the Geological Society of America. “This research can help the people of Cuba,” Hernández said, “and may give a good example to other people in the Caribbean and all over the world.” + The Geological Society of America Via Phys.org Image via Wikimedia Commons

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Sustainable agriculture cleans up rivers in Cuba

Plants to give your loved one this Valentine’s Day

February 7, 2020 by  
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Valentine’s Day is a time to shower your loved ones with thoughtful gifts to let them know how much they mean to you. While jewelry, chocolate and roses have traditionally been associated with the holiday, that special person will surely appreciate a gift that lasts longer — a houseplant. There are so many options of colorful plants that give the gift of fresh air and reminders of your love for years to come. Plus, houseplants are a sustainable, zero-waste option the planet will appreciate, too. Here are some ideas that could make this Valentine’s Day romantic and also thoughtful for both your partner and the planet. Heartleaf Philodendron When you decide to give a living plant for Valentine’s Day, it makes sense to choose one with heart-shaped leaves. There are around 200 varieties of philodendron, so look for one labeled ‘Heartleaf’ or ‘Sweetheart’. Not only does it fit the theme of the holiday, but it’s very easy to care for and keep happy. The heartleaf philodendron requires low to medium light and is forgiving if you forget to water it occasionally. Related: How to make an enchanting terrarium necklace to keep or give as a gift Cyclamen While the heartleaf philodendron does not produce a bloom, the cyclamen produces an attractive display of papery flowers with a heart-like shape. Standard colors are pink, red, burgundy or white, but there are many hybrids available. The flowering cyclamen blooms in the winter, which is perfect for Valentine’s Day, and it will re-bloom year after year with proper care. It is a bit of a fussy plant, preferring controlled temperatures and precise watering. Hoya Kerrii This ‘sweetheart’ plant is the perfect gift with distinctively heart-shaped leaves. Although the Hoya kerrii is often sold as a single-potted leaf, you can obtain this as a plant, too. Like most succulents , it has low-maintenance requirements in low light and moderate temperatures. Green Nephthytis Another evergreen, heart-leaved option is the Green Nephthytis. Fortunately for your recipient, it is easy to care for, and this vine works well in a pot on a bookcase or in a hanging basket. Anthurium In addition to heart-shaped leaves, the ‘flowers’ are also heart-shaped, so this plant offers double the love. Plus, it’s a striking plant known for its almost fake-looking waxy leaves and vibrant blooms. Provide anthurium with a bright space outside of direct sunlight in a humid environment, and you’ll get a cycle of blooms each year. Related: Valentine’s Day flower deliveries come at a huge cost to the environment Phalaenopsis This type of orchid brings a “wow” factor to your gift, with unique, long-lasting blooms that are available in a variety of colors. Because they typically bloom from late winter well into spring , Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to get a phalaenopsis settled into place. They prefer filtered light and consistent water. Golden Pothos Another “hearty” (or hardy) plant to grow, the Golden Pothos is likely to be around for decades. As a trailing vine, it will thrive on the top of a cabinet or in a hanging basket. Although it prefers bright, indirect light, it will likely adapt in a darker environment or accept fluorescent lighting as its light source. The golden pothos is also forgiving if the watering schedule isn’t quite followed. Succulents Succulents make a great gift, especially on Valentine’s Day. They have the ability to provide tropical appeal without asking for much in the way of care, and they bring a feeling of zen to any space. Succulents make a statement, so giving one as a gift offers an experience for your sweetheart that will last long after the rosebuds would have faded. Seeds or Bulbs If you require a smaller gift, your love interest is in the middle of a move or you’re shipping something across the country, why not consider seeds or bulbs? Especially for those who enjoy gardening, seeds or bulbs will likely deepen a connection between your sweetheart and you based on your thoughtfulness. You can also plant the seeds or bulbs and allow your gift to grow with the seasons. For example, tulips likely won’t be above the soil level for several more weeks, but your loved one will think of you when those plants finally bloom. Daffodils and crocus are two options that might be blooming as the holiday arrives, depending on where you live. As you shop for plants this Valentine’s Day, check with your local nurseries for advice about what plants to purchase and how to care for them. One benefit of shopping locally is that many selections will already be potted, eliminating the plastic packaging and pots. Of course, there are many online merchants who ship plants and aim to minimize waste, so do your research and email companies if you have any questions. Images via Shutterstock

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Plants to give your loved one this Valentine’s Day

New study shows some LED lights can harm wildlife

June 13, 2018 by  
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Researchers have concluded that certain types of LED lights can be harmful toward a wide variety of wildlife, calling attention to the potential hazards of the rapid expansion of LED light usage. Though LEDs made up only 9 percent of the global market in 2011, that number is expected to rise to 69 percent by 2020. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological and Integrative Physiology , researchers concluded that blue and white LED lighting is the most harmful to wildlife , particularly animals such as sea turtles and insects, while green, amber and yellow are more favorable. As the urbanization of our planet continues, it is essential that policymakers and scientists understand the potential outcomes of altering a space so drastically from its natural state. “Outdoor environments are changing rapidly and in ways that can impact wildlife species,” study leader author Travis Longcore told Phys.org . The researchers incorporated existing ecological data into the study as the team examined the impacts of different kinds of LED lights on animals such as insects, sea turtles, salmon and Newell’s shearwater seabird. Related: New research links LED streetlights to increased risk of cancer LED lights seem to adversely affect species in different ways. Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings can be lured inland by artificial light rather than into the ocean , while migrating juvenile salmon’s attraction to light may leave them vulnerable to predators. To better inform the public regarding the risks of LED, the study includes the first publicly available database that documents how about 24 different kinds of light can impact wildlife. “If we don’t provide advice and information to decision-makers, they will go with the cheapest lighting or lighting that serves only one interest and does not balance other interests,” Longcore said. “We provide a method to assess the probable consequences of new light sources to keep up with the changing technology and wildlife concerns.” + Journal of Experimental Zoology Via Phys.org Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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New study shows some LED lights can harm wildlife

This trippy tea house in Shanghai is built from 999 handmade timber sticks

June 13, 2018 by  
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Chinese design studio MINAX Architects have combined contemporary architecture with traditional Chinese tea drinking rituals in the ONE Teahouse, a cocoon-like space crafted from 999 handmade wooden sticks. Spanning an area of just 17.86 square meters (about 59 square feet), the compact tea house is a result of the renovation of an existing timber structure in Shanghai’s Hongkou District. The architects completed the project over the course of three months. Tea has long been an important part of traditional Chinese culture. However, with the advent of tea bags and busy lifestyles, the historic rituals surrounding tea are often overlooked or forgotten. With ONE Teahouse, MINAX Architects wanted to create a space where drinking a cup of tea would be elevated into an act of spiritual significance. Drawing inspiration from traditional Chinese wooden architecture, MINAX Architects inserted handmade wooden sticks of varying lengths into the oriented strand board walls of a rectangular room. Each stick was cut to a different angle and length to create the illusion of an ellipsoidal space. At the center of the space is a low “YI ZHANG” tea table by Shanghai-based furniture designers MINAXDO surrounded by six seats. LED lights illuminate the interior. Related: ARCHSTUDIO inserts a modern teahouse into an ancient Chinese structure “On one side of the room, a round window faces the urban road, while a square doorway is adjacent to a garden on the other side,” MINAX Architects wrote. “That is because [we] were inspired by an old Chinese saying —’The circle has a tread of auto-rotating, and the square has a tread of stable.’ The specificity of the space brings the people strong psychological hints. The theme of the teahouse is ‘ONE.’ ‘ONE’ and ‘RESTART’ are two words of the space where we could reach a higher state of consciousness.” + MINAX Architects Images by Zhigang Lu

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This trippy tea house in Shanghai is built from 999 handmade timber sticks

Funky Gemma Observatory in New Hampshire is the perfect place for stargazing

August 31, 2017 by  
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The new Gemma Observatory in New Hampshire defies architectural tradition by rejecting the established dome form. Instead, this private astronomical observatory looks like it has been carved out of the rock on which it stands. Anmahian Winton Architects designed the building as a faceted volume that creates optimal conditions for sky observation. The building is located on a remote mountain summit in central New Hampshire. It sits on a granite outcropping, amidst a very “dark” landscape with minimal light pollution,  which would potentially obstruct views of the night sky. Related: X-Studio’s Lightweave Palm Observatory is Made Entirely From Palm Leaves Gemma’s faceted form reflects the surrounding terrain, while its zinc cladding makes it look like a single piece of stone. Its interior, on the other hand, provides warmth through the presence of fir plywood . It houses a research office, sleeping bunk, and warming room on the first floor, and an exterior observation deck accessible via a helical stair. One of the most important aspects of the design is the role its shape and cladding plays in facilitating its function. The outstanding heat transfer capability facilitates sky observation by minimizing temperature differential distortion. Furthermore, cuts in the zinc cladding create strategically placed openings oriented towards both geological and celestial landmarks. + Anmahian Winton Architects Via v2com

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Solar roof tiles help power this secondary school in rural Kenya

August 31, 2017 by  
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Schools in rural Kenya often suffer through frequent power outages, and energy from the national grid can be expensive. But solar roof tiles from Strauss Energy offer a cheaper, renewable alternative. At the 275-student Gaitheri Secondary School in Murang’a County, the reliable source of electricity has enhanced students’ performance since they can study at night, and allowed the school to give computer lessons. Strauss Energy works to place building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) on structures, such as the solar roof tiles at the Kenya school. The tiles are intended for rooftops in place of solar panels , and provide a clean source of energy . Battery storage at the school ensures it receives power even on cloudy days and at night. Thanks to the solar roof tiles, Gaitheri Secondary School only pays around 1,500 Kenyan shillings, or about $14.50, a month, which the Thomson Reuters Foundation notes is essentially a fixed charge for access to power from the grid. Related: Solar Sister Empowers Women to Bring Solar Energy to Rural Africa Teacher Jackson Kamau Kiragu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation they can now offer computer lessons, saying, “We’ve got 18 computers, but power was a challenge before Strauss Energy came on board.” Organizations Christian Aid and the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance commissioned a survey earlier this year that found only around 57 percent of Kenyans are hooked up to the grid, so there’s potentially a large demand for off-grid power. Strauss Energy Chief Operations Officer Charity Wanjiku said they aim to develop BIPV technology to take advantage of Kenya’s sunshine, which isn’t fully exploited. She said while the technology may be expensive for homes – tiles cost between $20 and $250 each, based on their size – it’s optimal for schools, hospitals, or estate developers. Strauss Energy is researching ways to lower the cost of the solar tiles while boosting efficiency, and has plans to build a plant able to pump out 10,000 units every day. Via Thomson Reuters Foundation Images via Strauss Energy Facebook

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Solar roof tiles help power this secondary school in rural Kenya

This village in Arizona has a simple solution to light pollution

April 28, 2017 by  
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Residents of Arizona Sky Village abide by one simple rule: “Turn off your goddammed lights .” The 21-household community near Portal, Arizona is comprised of stargazers and astronomers, and almost every home has its own domed observatory. But some people also wonder if the small community could hold the secrets of fighting light pollution in America. In Arizona Sky Village, clear night skies are a major priority. There are no outdoor lights allowed, and every single window in every home must have blackout curtains. Nighttime driving isn’t forbidden, but it’s discouraged, and most residents are too busy gazing at the stars to drive anyway. Co-founder Jack Newton condensed it all into that one colorful rule: turn off those lights! Related: What City Skies Would Look Like Without Light Pollution Newton, who is nearly 75, said he spends “90 percent of my time up in my dome.” He’s made three supernova discoveries in 2017 alone, and the International Astronomical Union christened an asteroid 30840 Jackalice after him and his wife Alice. He doesn’t even own the largest telescope in the community; that honor goes to neighbor Rick Beno , who has a 24-inch telescope. Many residents once had scientific careers and now spend their retirement in Arizona Sky Village – like retired NASA astrophysicist Fred Espenak – but Newton managed department stores during his career. Few Americans benefit from the starry skies of Arizona Sky Village. The American Astronomical Society says people have a universal right to starlight; but around 99 percent of Americans actually live with a constant sky glow, according to The Guardian. Light pollution isn’t just bad for stargazing; it could have an impact on health as well. Blue lights streaming from cellphones and laptops have led to insomnia in some users and evidence isn’t conclusive yet but some studies suggest changing the light and dark rhythms in our bodies could increase the risk of diabetes, obesity, and cancer. International Dark Sky Association astronomer John Barentine said in Arizona Sky Village, “the people are already practicing what we recommend.” Kitt Peak National Observatory director Lori Allen told The Guardian to help keep skies dark, “There are three simple things people can do. Shield their lights, dim their lights, and use the right color bulbs.” Via The Guardian Images via John Fowler on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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This village in Arizona has a simple solution to light pollution

Modpools turns shipping containers into amazing swimming pools

April 28, 2017 by  
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We’ve seen shipping containers transformed into homes , shops , and even urban farms – but Modpools gives these repurposed structures a whole new life as backyard swimming pools . Modpools are easy to install and transport, and they come with a series of cool features including heaters, jets, portholes, and LED mood lighting you can control with your smartphone. Modpools are available in 8′ x 20′ or 8′ x 40′ container sizes and they can be installed in no time. By adding a divider, users can even create a temporary or permanent hot tub section. These customizable all-in-one pool systems ship with ready-to-use, built-in pool equipment and a high-tech Ultraviolet system that keeps the water clean without the need for chemicals. Related: ScottWhitbyStudio transforms a shipping container into a pop-up cinema You can install Modpools above ground with raised decking, partially underground with retaining walls, or at ground level. This makes them versatile and easy to adapt to different topographies and backyard sizes. You can add a special touch to your prefab swimming pool by adding a window to the side of the shipping container. + Modpools Via Curbed

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Worlds greenest terminal opens at Oslo airport

April 28, 2017 by  
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Nordic Office of Architecture recently completed the world’s greenest airport terminal with their new 115,000-square-meter extension that’s doubled the size of Oslo Airport. As the world’s first airport building to achieve the BREEAM Excellence sustainability rating, the renovated Oslo Airport boasts an array of energy-efficient strategies as well as on-site energy harvesting systems. The most notable energy-saving measure is the airport’s collection and storage of snow for reuse as coolant during the summer. The recent expansion is a continuation of Nordic’s work on the Oslo Airport, which the architecture firm designed in 1998. The Oslo-based design studio’s 300-meter-long extension preserves the building’s simple and iconic appearance while increasing airport capacity from 19 million to an anticipated future capacity of 30 million. New design elements also improve the passenger experience, such as the reduction of walking distances to a maximum of 450 meters, and the overhaul of the existing train station at the heart of the airport. Artificial lighting is minimized in favor of natural lighting to improve passenger comfort and reduce energy demands. Related: Zaha Hadid unveils plans for world’s largest airport terminal in Beijing In addition to the use of natural lighting and the reuse of snow as a summer coolant, the architects reduced the airport’s carbon footprint by 35 percent with the use of environmentally friendly and recycled materials . The new pier is entirely clad in timber sourced from Scandinavian forests, while additional natural materials, green walls, and water features, can be found throughout the interior. Recycled steel and concrete mixed with volcanic ash were also used. Improved insulation has helped the building achieve Passive House-level performance standards and, coupled with on-site energy harvesting, slashed energy consumption by over 50 percent as compared to the existing terminal. + Nordic Office of Architecture Images by Ivan Brodey

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