Tonga volcanic eruption largest explosion in modern history

May 17, 2022 by  
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The  January volcanic eruption  near the Pacific island of Tonga has been confirmed as the biggest eruption ever recorded by modern instruments. Its explosion also surpassed any atomic bomb tests conducted after World War II. The assessment came in a pair of scientific papers published in the  journal Science.  According to the researchers behind the papers, only the Krakatoa eruption of 1883 comes close to the Tonga explosion, caused by the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha?apai. The Krakatoa event is one of the most catastrophic events recorded in recent history, claiming more than 30,000 lives. Although the Tonga explosion was the biggest explosion in recent history, it did not lead to such casualties. Related: Casa Eterea offers off-grid lodging on an extinct volcano “Tonga was a truly global event, just as Krakatoa was, but we’ve now got all these geophysical observation systems and they recorded something that was really unprecedented in the modern data,” Dr. Robin Matoza, from the University of California, Santa Barbara, told BBC News.  Matoza, who is the lead author of one of the papers, explains that the occurrence of the Tonga explosion caused huge tsunamis , but did not cause serious casualties due to energy distribution. Some of the energy from the explosion was contained in ocean waves. Thanks to advanced technology, the detection and measurement of volcanic explosions have become much easier. Today, scientists have access to plenty of advanced instruments used in monitoring such events. They also use a fleet of satellites that monitor the earth. The tools available can track atmospheric pressure, seismic force, and even hydrophones. The Tonga explosion only came at the end of weeks of monitoring where several types of atmospheric pressure and sea waves had been detected. The explosion was anticipated, with its warnings reaching distances as far as 10,000 km from the point of eruption. The Tonga explosion produced an atmospheric pressure wave only comparable to the  Tsar bomb  detonated by the Soviets in 1961. However, the size of the explosion was bigger and the pressure lasted four times longer.  Via USA Today , BBC News Lead image via Pexels

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Dinosaur extinction caused unexpected changes in plants and fruits

May 11, 2022 by  
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About 60 million years ago, the Cretaceous–Paleogene ( K – Pg ) extinction occurred, wiping away almost a third of all existing animals, including dinosaurs, from planet Earth. In recent years, scientists have been toying around with the idea of genetically reengineering some of the long-lost animals. Although still a far-fetched dream, researchers have now found that restoring the Jurassic Park would take a lot more than just reengineering the lost animals. A new paper published in the journal   Proceedings of the Royal Society establishes that the mass extinction of animals also led to dramatic changes in vegetation and the way they behave. The study authored by Renske Onstein from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research and other researchers now shows that genetically reengineering any of the lost animals would require a total reengineering of their environment as well. Related: Newly discovered dinosaur species was as long as a school bus — and could help solve a mystery “We used genetic data to reconstruct past relationships. Based on that information, we saw splitting and speciation happening,” Onstein said. It is often thought that species thrive and evolution booms after an extinction. On the contrary, the researchers found dramatic occurrences in the wake of the extinction. The rate of species branching off into new ones was slowed down on average, a situation that the scientists were not able to explain. “That’s the next question. Why did speciation slow down? I’m not sure, to be honest. We saw some groups where speciation actually increased, because other species went extinct and there was less competition, so they could really flourish. Other groups went down in speciation. We still need to get our heads around that,” Onstein said. Further, there were drastic changes in vegetation after the extinction. The vegetation that persisted 25 million years after the extinction underwent serious changes in morphology. Some lost their defense mechanisms while others started growing much larger fruits . The researchers divided the fruiting plants into two groups. The first group included plants that produced fruits smaller or equal to four centimeters in diameter. The other group included fruits with a diameter larger than four centimeters. The researchers noticed that several fruit types had increased in size within 25 million years after the extinction of dinosaurs . “These large fruits probably still depended on large animals , but maybe not as large as these megaherbivores, which were over 1,000 kilograms. The fruits could probably also be dispersed by animals comparable to tapirs, 100 or 200 kilograms. Those kinds of animals were evolving during that time,” Onstein said. Via Salon , Syfy Lead image via Pexels

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PFAS and other chemicals found in dollar store products

April 13, 2022 by  
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A huge number of products sold at dollar stores contain harmful chemicals. A study on various products, including toys, electronics and food, found that many contained per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances ( PFAS ) and other harmful chemicals.  Researchers behind the study tested 226 products purchased from five of the most popular dollar stores. They tested the products for various chemicals, including lead , phthalates and PFAS. Findings showed that over half of the products tested contained at least one harmful chemical. Baby toys and Disney-themed headphones are among the products that returned positive results for these chemicals. Related: Hemp is helping clean up PFAS chemicals in Maine The Campaign for Healthier Solutions has called on dollar stores to phase out such harmful products. Jose Bravo, the coalition’s national coordinator, said the findings should concern any parent whose children might interact with such products. “As a parent, I should be able to buy a product without expecting to poison my child,” said Bravo. Some of the chemicals found by researchers have proven detrimental health effects. For instance, phthalates are associated with high rates of childhood cancer. The researchers also found polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which can disrupt reproductive and cognitive development, in some products. Such chemicals could directly harm children. “There are known substitutes for these hormone-disrupting chemical hazards,” said Jeff Gearhart, research director of Ecology Center Healthy Stuff Lab, the group that conducted the testing. “The fact that they continue to be used in these low cost products that dollar stores sell is a real problem.” The study also revealed concerning chemicals in canned foods sold by dollar stores. Many goods tested were coated in BPA, an endocrine disruptor that leaks into foods and drinks. The dangerous, non-biodegradable PFAS used in nonstick pans were also found in some products. PFAS are associated with conditions such as thyroid disease and cancer. Currently, the U.S. is home to well over 34,000 dollar stores. Most of these stores sell inexpensive products sourced from overseas. Although some dollar stores have regulations to end the sale of such products, many others fall behind. The two leading dollar stores, Dollar General and Dollar Tree, have banned products that contain potentially harmful chemicals. The Campaign for Healthier Solutions now wants all the other dollar stores to follow suit. Via The Guardian Lead image via Pexels

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How much heat can Earth’s forests handle?

April 11, 2022 by  
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An international team of researchers carried out a study to determine the heat and moisture threshold for Earth’s forests . Published in  Nature Communications , the study answers “how hot is too hot” and “how dry is too dry” for forests. To do this, researchers compiled the first global database of georeferenced forest die-off events at over 675 locations dating to the 1970s.  The study covered all forested continents and compared the information to existing climate data to determine the climatic conditions behind three major mortality episodes. Lead author William Hammond, a University of Florida plant ecophysiologist, says the analysis allows the forests to speak for themselves based on historical occurrences. “In this study, we’re letting the Earth’s forests do the talking,” said Hammond “We collected data from previous studies documenting where and when trees died, and then analyzed what the climate was during mortality events, compared to long-term conditions.” Related: New study provides hope for restoring tropical forests According to Hammond, an analysis of the previous forest mortality events revealed a pattern. The pattern shows that Earth’s forests face the highest mortality risk during extremely hot periods. “What we found was that at the global scale, there was this consistently hotter, drier pattern – what we call a ‘hotter- drought fingerprint’ – that can show us how unusually hot or dry it has to get for forests to be at risk of death,” said Hammond. While every year has hotter months and colder ones, some years are much hotter than others. During these hotter years, Earth’s forests face higher risks of combustion. “Our hotter-drought fingerprint revealed that global forest mortality is linked to intensified climate extremes,” Hammond said. “Using climate model data, we estimated how frequent these previously lethal climate conditions would become under further warming , compared to pre-industrial era climate – 22% more frequent at plus 2 degrees Celsius (plus 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), to 140% more frequently at plus 4 degrees Celsius (plus 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit).” One finding showed that as the planet warms, the frequency of such extremes increases. This increase further threatens forests’ safety. Especially considering trees’ roles in carbon sequestering, monitoring forest temperatures could help prevent them from getting dry enough for destruction. Via Newswise Lead image via Pexels

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End fossil fuels, save lung health, says new study

April 4, 2022 by  
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A new report by the American Lung Association (ALA) has found that a nationwide shift to electric vehicles and clean energy could save over 100,000 American lives. The researchers found that a rapid transition could save the country over 1.2 trillion in public health costs over the next three decades. Additionally, the shift could reduce lung condition cases associated with fossil fuels. The report highlights fossil fuel reliance’s damage to the world. It shows that a shift from dirty fuel could promote a healthier future with fewer hospitalizations and deaths. Swapping all gas vehicles in the U.S. for electric ones could directly result in 110,000 fewer deaths and 2.8 million fewer asthma cases by 2050. Further, the shift could result in 13.4 million fewer sick days. Related: Global warming expected to worsen serious health issues How could such a change affect the world? Estimates predict a 92% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050. Further, the change would result in roughly $1.7 trillion worth of climate benefits. Additional benefits include a stronger ecosystem, improved agricultural infrastructure and fewer natural disasters. As the population most adversely affected by the climate crisis, communities of color would see the biggest improvements from this transition.  However, the report emphasizes that policymakers are responsible for enacting these changes. Authors involved in the study say the biggest stumbling block to achieving such a future is politics. Currently, political polarization seems to drive the lack of climate action. “The current rising gas and energy prices are a symptom of our addiction to fossil fuels. But outside the economic pain, there’s significant public health pain caused by our addiction to fossil fuels,” said Will Barrett, author of  “Zeroing in on Healthy Air.”  “Transitioning to zero-emission technologies and energy depends on strong political leadership and investments, in order to get the potential health benefits off the page and into the real world,” he added. The study used models centered on the U.S. fully transitioning to 100% electric car sales in 2035 and electric trucks by 2040. Calculations also envisioned a full departure from fossil fuels to green sources such as solar and wind by 2035. Via The Guardian Lead image Pixabay

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Greta Thunberg to release ‘The Climate Book’ this fall

April 4, 2022 by  
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Penguin will publish “The Climate Book,” a new work by climate activist  Greta Thunberg , this coming autumn. Over 100 people contributed to the book, which provides an overview of how Earth’s many crises connect. I’ve invited over 100 leading voices from around the world – scientists, experts, activists and authors to create a book that covers the climate- and ecological crisis from a holistic perspective. The Climate Book will be released in October. https://t.co/Q3r5zEThBN pic.twitter.com/dnIONDeRcX — Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) March 31, 2022 “I have decided to use my platform to create a  book  based on the current best available science – a book that covers the climate, ecological and sustainability crises holistically,” Thunberg said. “Because the climate crisis is, of course, only a symptom of a much larger sustainability crisis. My hope is that this book might be some kind of go-to source for understanding these different, closely interconnected crises.” Related: Greta Thunberg slams global leaders for their “blah, blah, blah” Contributors approach the  climate  topic from varied perspectives. Scientists from around the globe are well represented, including ice and sea change expert Ricarda Winkelmann of Potsdam, Germany, Brooklyn-born marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Chadian geographer Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim. Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood and French economist Thomas Piketty also share their climate views. Thunberg has already published three books, two of which her parents and sister co-authored. These include “Scenes from the Heart,” “Our House Is on Fire” and “No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference.” In her new book, Thunberg will share her own experiences of climate activism and the prevalence of  greenwashing . She emphasizes that people need to understand how much we have been fooled by greenwashing before we can act — and before we deserve to hope. “Right now, we are in desperate need of hope. But hope is not about pretending that everything will be fine,” Thunberg said. “To me, hope is not something that is given to you, it is something you have to earn, to create. It cannot be gained passively, through standing by and waiting for someone else to do something. Hope is taking action . It is stepping outside your comfort zone. And if a bunch of weird schoolkids were able to get millions of people to start changing their lives, just imagine what we could all do together if we really tried.” Via The Guardian Lead image via Stefan Müller

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Microplastics contaminate human blood, says new study

March 25, 2022 by  
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New research published in Environment International has confirmed the presence of microplastics in the human blood. In a study involving 22 participants, 80% of the samples tested were found to have microplastics. This is the first study to prove that microplastics can reach the bloodstream. In previous studies, microplastics have been found in animals and human feces. The researchers say they found up to three different types of plastic in some blood samples. They also found particles as small as 0.0007mm in some cases. The findings now prove that microplastics can travel through the body and may lodge in organs. Further research is needed to determine plastic’s effects on the body. However, the researchers behind the study say plastic particles could damage body cells. Previous studies have shown that air pollution particles inhaled cause millions of early deaths annually. Researchers worry the same findings could apply to microplastics. Related: Hermit crab study shows microplastic’s affect on marine life Plastic pollution is a major problem in our modern world. Each year, tons of plastics are dumped into the environment. Previous studies have shown that microplastics now contaminate the entire world, including remote areas. A recent study found 10 times more  microplastic pollution  in the Atlantic than previously thought. Another study found high amounts of microplastics  deposited on sea floors . In 2020, one study established  microplastics in produce  sold at the market. This could be one of the sources of the microplastics found in human bodies. At this point, most food sources consumed by humans are likely contaminated by plastics. Another study conducted in 2021 found  microplastics in cows’ bloodstreams . In the latest study, researchers analyzed samples from 22 unknown blood donors. All donors were healthy adults living a normal lifestyle. Among the samples, 17 contained microplastic contamination. Half the samples contained PET plastic, commonly used in water bottles. “Our study is the first indication that we have polymer particles in our blood – ?it’s a breakthrough result,” said Professor Dick Vethaak, an ecotoxicologist at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. “But we have to extend the research and increase the sample sizes, the number of polymers assessed, etc.”  The research was funded by Common Seas and the Dutch National Organisation for Health Research and Development. Alongside 80 NGOs and some U.K. MPs, these organizations are calling for the U.K. government to further research microplastic’s impacts on humans. Via The Guardian Lead image via Oregon State University

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New study says climate tipping point might be surmountable

March 16, 2022 by  
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Around the world, many of us fear a  climate  tipping point. But a tipping point might not be as bad as we’re expecting, according to the authors of a new study. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a  tipping point  as “the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.” But a recent  study  published in Environmental Research Letters concludes that a climate tipping point could be more nuanced, possibly affecting just part of a  system  rather than the whole planet. Related: Amazon rainforest might reach irreversible tipping point as early as 2021 The researchers studied large, spatially heterogeneous systems such as forests,  lakes  and ice sheets. In the paper “Fragmented tipping in a spatially heterogeneous world,” researchers explain that a tipping point’s severity depends on the heterogeneity and spatial size of the system. Larger and more heterogeneous systems might experience minor, even reversible changes. This minor dose of good news doesn’t mean the study’s authors are gleefully charging toward tipping points. “I am still worried about tipping points,” wrote lead author Robbin Bastiaansen. “Because I can imagine critical things might happen especially as  climate change  persists. But I am not as worried that once we cross a tipping point, everything is going to hell immediately. I think it is going to be much more subtle than the kind of narrative that has been painted in some papers about planetary boundaries: that once we cross over one tipping point everything just collapses simultaneously. I don’t think that is the case.” To better understand Bastiaansen et al.’s idea, let’s compare a little pond with a large lake. The smaller body of water has little variation (i.e. heterogeneity), so if it experiences a harmful algal bloom, soon the whole pond is sullied. However, in a larger body of  water , some parts might be green with algae while others are fine. And if you’re able to treat the bloom, you can restore the lake. In short, we might still avert humanity’s doom. But let’s stop pushing our luck. Via Newswise Lead image via TiPES/HP

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Newly discovered catalyst offers solution for methane

January 25, 2022 by  
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Researchers have found and tested a catalyst that could convert methane gas into valuable compounds. A study in Nature Catalysis says the catalyst will be able not only to convert methane but also develop industrially vital compounds. These findings provide an option for combatting methane’s harmful greenhouse effects. The U.S. recently announced new emission restrictions due to the warming effects of methane. To make the matter more complicated, methane gas doesn’t easily break down into its constituent compounds. As a result, it continues growing in the atmosphere. Related: Methane leak data and campaign to cut emissions According to Yue Wu, one of the study’s lead authors, and his colleagues at Iowa State University, the discovery provides a solution that could be explored further. “The results provided a potential solution to this long-time challenge and represented the best stability, conversion rate, and selectivity to convert methane to ethane or ethylene, two main precursors for the modern petrochemical industry,” researchers wrote in a project summary. The catalyst in question is made up of two layers of platinum with each layer being as thin as an atom. The layers are deposited on two-dimensional metal carbide structures known as “MXenes” made out of carbon molybdenum and titanium. According to the researchers, the thin layers provide room for every platinum atom to be used as a catalyst to prevent the formation of residue that could cover and deactivate the platinum. As a result, only a small amount of platinum is required for the entire process. Wu says that his team has been studying the combination of carbon and metals for over five years with support from the Office of Naval Research. The researchers discovered that MXene surfaces are highly active and can absorb many molecules. When exposed to methane, the catalyst can convert it into ethane or ethylene. Both of these products are primary ingredients for petrochemical industries. “We had never seen carbide so active,” Wu said. “It’s usually very inert. It’s used, for example, for high-speed drill bits – the surface is hard and inert.” + Nature Catalysis Via Newswise Images via Li, Z., Xiao, Y., Chowdhury, P.R. et al.

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Solar panel technology breakthrough to increase efficiency

January 25, 2022 by  
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With the pressure on to save ourselves from global warming, we need more efficient  solar panels  like yesterday. But the next best thing is soon, and thanks to new developments in solar technology, solar panels may increase their efficiency by almost half by 2025. Still, that will only be about 35% efficient. Much of the sunlight that hits a solar panel can’t be turned into  electricity . Right now, the average solar panel is about 22% efficient at turning sunlight into usable energy. Only the most high-end panels — the really expensive ones used for spacecrafts and such — are more efficient. Related: Affordable solar homes are lifting homeowners out of poverty Silicon-based solar panels are finicky. They prefer shorter wavelengths in the red and yellow part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Longer light waves are too weak, and light waves in the blue and green end of the spectrum tend to bounce off the silicon panels. Worse, they can generate  heat  that degrades the panels. In 2014, a group of  researchers  at the University of Cambridge started trying to convert blue and green light waves into red ones so that solar panels could harness more power. The team, led by physicist Akshay Rao, hoped to boost efficiency to 35%. The University of Cambridge ran with the idea, using it to start a new company, Cambridge Photon Technology, with Rao as its scientific officer. “We’re trying to deal with this problem of how you improve solar PV performance and bring down costs significantly without throwing away the established silicon  technology ,” said David Wilson, head of business development at Cambridge Photon Technology, as reported by Nature. Of course, this is a complicated process. But put very simply, when light strikes photovoltaic material, it creates something called an exciton. This consists of an electron (negatively charged) and an electron vacancy (positively charged) connected by an electrostatic charge. But with the right material, an organic polymer semiconductor, the photon can split into two excitons with lower energy. Both of these can convert to electric current. “You’re preserving the total  energy  that comes in and out, but you’re making the silicon receive a higher photon flux in the portion of the spectrum that it’s good at converting into electricity,” Wilson said. By the end of this year, Rao hopes to have a working prototype that is 31% efficient. Watch for the 35% efficient panel sometime after 2025. Via CleanTechnica , Nature Lead image © Nature

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