Climate crisis could turn the Amazon rainforest to savanna

October 6, 2020 by  
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A new study published in the journal Nature Communications indicates that the Amazon rainforest could shift from a closed canopy rainforest to an open savanna due to the climate crisis. The study shows that the rate of deforestation coupled with forest fires sparked by climate change could significantly change the status of the rainforest in the future. According to the researchers, rainforests are very sensitive to changes in rainfall. If they experience prolonged droughts and fires like the ones recently witnessed in the Amazon , they may lose more trees and become more like a savanna. Although scientists have always known that this was possible, it was thought that such changes were decades away. The new study, led by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, now indicates that the changes are much closer than initially anticipated. Related: You can help monitor Amazon deforestation from your couch Almost 40% of the Amazon is already receiving less rainfall than usual and is at the point where it could exist as a savanna instead of a rainforest . While the researchers say that the process of fully changing the forest to savanna would take decades, they also say that once the process starts, it is nearly irreversible. “Drier conditions make it harder for the forest to recover and increase the flammability of the ecosystem,” Arie Staal, lead author of the study, told The Guardian . If the Amazon rainforest changes to a savanna, there would be dangerous consequences. Rainforests are important because they support a huge number of species and absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. If the rainforest changes, much of the plant and animal species here could be lost. The problems experienced by rainforests like the Amazon are exacerbated by harmful policies. For instance, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil has made promises to develop the Amazon , a move that has been criticized by many. This year, the Amazon has experienced a 60% increase in fire hotspots compared to 2019. The study now warns that if such fires continue, the rainforest could be permanently altered. + Nature Communications Via The Guardian Image via Jose Eduardo Camargo

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Climate crisis could turn the Amazon rainforest to savanna

Maryland bans single-use foam containers

October 6, 2020 by  
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Last week, Maryland became the first U.S. state to ban single-use foam containers for carryout. Although the legislation banning their use was passed in 2019, it came into effect on Thursday, October 1. Among the items that will be prohibited in the new law include cups, plates, trays and containers. All entities in the state will be affected by the law, including businesses and institutions, such as schools. Originally, the state had set July 1 as the deadline for implementing the new law. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the deadline was pushed to October 1. Even with the delays, many cities and counties within the state had already implemented the ban early. Related: Maryland could become the first state to ban plastic foam containers Democratic Delegate Brooke Lierman was the main sponsor of the House bill that led to the new law. Although she had proposed the bill twice before, it was unsuccessful. But due to the recent climatic events, her colleagues started to shift their positions. According to Lierman, plastics are already hurting our environment, and actions have to be taken now to stop their effects. “Single-use plastics are overrunning our oceans and bays and neighborhoods,” Lierman said. “We need to take dramatic steps to start stemming our use and reliance on them … to leave future generations a planet full of wildlife and green space.” For a long time, polystyrene foam containers have been the go-to solution for businesses. They provide a cheap option for food packaging and are preferred by most business operators. But they are detrimental to the environment. In opposition to the new bill, the American Chemistry Council said that banning the single-use containers would vastly harm the local businesses. “Polystyrene foam packaging and containers provide business owners and consumers with a cost-effective and environmentally preferable choice that is ideal for protecting food and preventing food waste , particularly when used for food service,” the council argued. “Foam packaging is generally more than 90 percent air and has a lighter environmental impact than alternatives.” Although the law does not leave loopholes for continued use of the outlawed products, the Maryland Department of Environment allows schools and other institutions to apply for a grace period of up to one year. This will only be granted in special situations, where the institution may not be able to fulfill the ban in time. + Maryland Expanded Polystyrene Ban Via CNN Image via Jens S.

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Mealworms can serve as protein source, research says

September 10, 2020 by  
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A new study published in the Journal of Insects as Food and Feed has revealed that yellow mealworms can serve as an alternative protein source for animals and, possibly, humans. The study comes at a time when global food demands keep rising. Spontaneous population growth in developing countries has led to a shortage of protein sources, prompting researchers to look for alternative options. The new research, conducted by Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), proposes yellow mealworms as a food source. Christine Picard, associate professor of biology and the director of the Forensic Investigative Sciences Program at IUPUI School of Science, led the research. The study focused on analyzing the genome of a mealworm species known as tenebrio molitor. “Human populations are continuing to increase, and the stress on protein production is increasing at an unsustainable rate, not even considering climate change ,” Picard said. Findings explain that the yellow mealworm can offer several agricultural benefits. Fish and domestic birds can use the worms as an alternative source of protein. The worms can also help produce organic fertilizer, with their nutrient-rich waste. The mealworm genome research employed a 10X Chromium linked-read technology. Researchers now say that this information is available for use by those seeking to utilize DNA to optimize mealworms for mass production. According to Picard, IUPUI’s research has dealt with the challenging part, opening doors for interested stakeholders. “ Insect genomes are challenging, and the longer sequence of DNA you can generate, the better genome you can assemble. Mealworms, being insects, are a part of the natural diet of many organisms,” Picard said. Since fish enjoy mealworms as food , the researchers propose adopting these worms for fish farming. Researchers also say that pet food industries can use the worms as a supplemental protein source. In the future, mealworms could also serve as food for humans. “Fish enjoy mealworms, for example. They could also be really useful in the pet food industry as an alternative protein source, chickens like insects — and maybe one day humans, too, because it’s an alternative source of protein,” Picard said. To facilitate the yellow mealworm’s commercialization, the IUPUI team continues researching the worm’s biological processes. + Journal of Insects as Food and Feed Via Newswise Image via Pixabay

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Mealworms can serve as protein source, research says

Canada’s last Arctic ice shelf has collapsed

August 10, 2020 by  
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The Milne Ice Shelf, the largest remaining intact ice shelf in Canada, has collapsed. According to researchers studying the Milne Ice Shelf, the ice shelf collapsed in just two days at the end of July and lost about 40% of its area. This ice shelf sits at the fringe of Ellesmere Island in the northern territory of Nunavut. For the past 30 years, the Arctic has warmed twice as fast as the global rate. The Arctic’s warming reached new levels this year, causing polar ice to hit its lowest levels in 40 years. Though ice caps melting in the heat has become more frequent, this year’s record temperatures caused unprecedented melting and disintegration of bigger ice shelves. Related: Antarctica reaches record high temperature “Above normal air temperatures , offshore winds and open water in front of the ice shelf are all part of the recipe for ice shelf break up,” The Canadian Ice Service said on Twitter. The area affected by the ice shelf breaking is significantly large. According to researchers, the shelf area shrank by 80 square kilometers — an area roughly 20 square kilometers larger than New York’s Manhattan Island. “This was the largest remaining intact ice shelf, and it’s disintegrated, basically,” said Luke Copland, a glaciologist at the University of Ottawa and Milne Ice Shelf researcher. The research team lost a campsite and several instruments when the ice shelf collapsed. According to one of the researchers, Derek Mueller of Carleton University in Ottawa , the team has noticed signs of collapse while working on the ice shelf. Mueller says the team was lucky to not be on the ice shelf when it collapsed. Given that the collapse swept away an entire campsite, the team would have faced a similar fate. Researchers now warn that the Arctic can expect more ice melting if global temperatures continue to increase. This year, the Arctic experienced temperatures rising 5 degrees Celcius above the 30-year average. If global warming continues, Arctic ice could melt entirely into the sea over time. Via Huffpost Images via Pixabay

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Canada’s last Arctic ice shelf has collapsed

Flow of plastic waste in the ocean could triple by 2040

July 24, 2020 by  
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New research by The Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ has found that the plastic flow into the oceans could triple by 2040 without immediate action. But the study, “Breaking the Plastic Wave: A Comprehensive Assessment of Pathways Towards Stopping Ocean Plastic Pollution,” also outlines solutions that could cut this plastic waste by more than 80%. According to the researchers, the methods currently used to deal with plastic pollution are less effective unless they are consolidated and accompanied by new technology and more research. The report shows that if governments continue addressing plastic waste as they are currently, the amount of plastic waste flowing into oceans could only be reduced by 7% in the next 20 years. With no intervention, the plastic waste entering the ocean could grow from 11 million to 29 million metric tons by 2040. Because plastic lasts for hundreds of years, the cumulative amount pf ocean plastic could reach 600 million tons (the equivalent weight of 3 million blue whales) by that point. Related: Record high amount of microplastic found on seafloors “Breaking the Plastic Wave” identifies eight measures that could reduce plastic waste by 80%. The proposed measures include reducing plastic production and consumption, substituting plastics with biodegradable alternatives, designing product packaging for recycling , increasing recycling, increasing waste collection rates and reducing plastic waste exports. More technological advancements, business models and research and development are needed to completely eliminate plastic waste in the oceans, according to the study. Although many of these methods are already being applied by some governments, the report proposes a more consolidated approach. The researchers estimate that governments could save up to $70 billion and reduce plastic-related greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2040 by adopting these measures together. According to Martin Stuchtey, SYSTEMIQ’s founder, the plastic pollution problem is solvable if action is taken now. “Our results indicate that the plastic crisis is solvable,” Stuchtey said. “It took a generation to create this challenge; this report shows we can solve it in one generation.” + Breaking the Plastic Wave Image via Sergei Tokmakov

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Giant, abstract trees hold up the roof of an experimental Korean home

November 21, 2019 by  
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When designing the House of Three Trees, Seoul-based architecture practice Jae Kim Architects & Researchers (JK-AR) started with a question: What would Korean architecture look like if timber remained the dominant construction material from ancient times until today? To answer this alternate-reality proposition, the architects conceived a project representative of “the rebirth of East Asian timber architecture of the 21st century” that blends digital design and fabrication with traditional Korean architecture. Built with sculptural, tree-like structures that employ the iconic wooden bracket systems of ancient times, the experimental home also relates to the local vernacular with low-cost materials commonly used in rural Korean buildings. During the late Joseon Dynasty of Korea in the 17th and 19th centuries, timber resources were mostly exhausted until globalization led to the import of cheaper wooden materials from around the world. Due to the popularization of reinforced concrete structures and the high cost of timber construction, development of timber architecture slowed. Using algorithmic tools, JK-AR envisions how timber architecture could have evolved had timber resources continued to be readily available with The House of Three Trees. The experimental home features tree-like supporting structures solely composed of wooden joinery — using more than 4,000 timber elements — constructed with traditional techniques and zero additive fasteners. Related: Moon Hoon’s funky new home captures sunlight on Jeju Island “The house criticizes today’s application of traditional buildings that is superficial, merely imitating traditional expressions in architecture, or too abstract,” the architects explained. “Rather, the house redefines the virtue of East Asian timber buildings in its tectonic aspect which is a combination of structure and ornamentation. Moreover, the house serves as an example of how contemporary technology, such as design computation and digital fabrication, can reinterpret traditional architecture. Technology can give East Asian timber construction the potential to evolve in a new direction.” The home takes on a hexagonal shape, influenced by the irregular building plot, with an interior defined by three tree-like columns that support the roof. Covered in asphalt shingles, the butterfly roof is raised to provide a glimpse of the trees inside. Polycarbonate corrugated panels wrap around the home in a nod to rural Korean construction; these panels also create a double-skin around the plywood facade to improve the building’s insulation performance and water resistance. + Jae Kim Architects & Researchers Photography by Roh Kyung via Jae Kim Architects & Researchers

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Giant, abstract trees hold up the roof of an experimental Korean home

Study estimates sea level rise two times worse than worst-case scenario

May 22, 2019 by  
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Sea level rise is a serious threat, but a new report argues that it may be far worse than even the current worst-case estimates. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday, estimates that there is a 5 percent chance the sea level will rise between 2 feet and 7.8 feet within the next century. This is more than twice what was recently predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Although 5 percent might seem like a small probability, the researchers are quick to point out that is a one in 20 chance, and this should not be ignored by governments and infrastructure planners. Scientists focused their research on predicting the impact of ice melting in Greenland and Antarctica if the world warms by 5 degrees. Under the Paris Agreement, 185 countries pledged to limit global warming to just 1.5 degrees Celsius, but radical changes would have to be made and sustained in order to come close to this ambitious goal. “We should not rule out a sea-level rise of over 2 meters if we continue along a business-as-usual emissions trajectory,” Jonathan Bamber, lead author from the University of Bristol,  told USA Today . According to the researchers’ predictions, such a rise in sea levels would be globally catastrophic. Coastal cities like Miami and New York are especially vulnerable, as are major agricultural areas like the Nile Delta. Small islands in the Pacific and Caribbean would be devastated, and an estimated 187 million people would be displaced. To put this into perspective, about 1 million people have been displaced by the Syrian refugee crisis. Bamber said , “What we decide to do collectively as a species politically, globally, over the next decade is going to determine the future of the next generations in terms of the habitability of the planet and what sort of environment they live in.” Via EcoWatch , CNN and USA Today Image via NASA

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Study estimates sea level rise two times worse than worst-case scenario

Farming insects too much too fast could create an environmental disaster

January 21, 2019 by  
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The potential of insects as an alternative source of protein is promising. But this week, Swedish scientists warned that more research is needed on the environmental impact of mass rearing insects before large-scale production begins if we want to avoid a potential environmental disaster. Writing in the Trends in Ecology & Evolution journal, the researchers explained that there is currently an “overwhelming lack of knowledge” about insects, especially basic things like what they need for housing and food, how to manage their waste and which are the most suitable species for mass rearing. Related: Modular Cricket Shelter grows edible insects in Brooklyn The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that more than 1,900 species of insects are edible, but the researchers believe that we first need to get answers to those basic questions, so we don’t “risk creating an industry that replaces one environmental problem with another.” Both nutritionists and scientists have advocated insects as being a sustainable and cheap source of protein to feed our constantly growing population. They also have benefits like being high in vitamins, fiber and minerals. Insects produce fewer greenhouse gases than pigs or cattle, and they require a lot less land and water. Businesses have already started to enter the world of edible insects, producing things like sweet potato soup made with bugs, burgers made of buffalo worms and DIY insect farms. But this might be too much too fast, according to Asa Berggren, a conservation biologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the paper’s co-author. “How do you produce the feed they eat, where do you produce it, what do you use? There are so many questions,” Berggren said. “Are we going to use fossil fuels for heating and cooling the facilities (where insects are grown)? What about transportation?” She went on to say that one of the biggest threats to both natural and production systems is invasive species . There could be a big problem if insects are accidentally released in a country where they are imported. Other concerns include whether or not farmed insects that get sick will transmit diseases to consumers, and there is also a question of animal welfare . Berggren admitted that there could be a lot of insects that are good for us to eat, but further research is important. Via Reuters Image via Primal Future ( 1 , 2 )

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Farming insects too much too fast could create an environmental disaster

An itty-bitty tiny home on wheels is pretty in pink

January 21, 2019 by  
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Designed by architect Joshua Woodsman of Pin-Up Houses , this bright pink tiny home is one of the most vibrant we’ve ever seen. Adding to its whimsical exterior, Magenta is a prefabricated tiny home on wheels that has a living space of just 66 square feet. However, within that tiny space are plenty of creature comforts that make it a fabulous home for living life on the road. According to the team from Pin-Up Houses, the vibrant Magenta is “a manifesto of temporary independent housing, against debt and mortgages.” Built on a flat trailer, the tiny home was designed for people who want to live on the road with a transportable but comfortable home. Accordingly, Magenta was built with extremely lightweight materials, waterproof plywood and spruce beams. Polystyrene insulation was installed on every side of the home, keeping it cozy and warm in the winter months and cool in summertime. A large window lets natural light into the living space. Related: ‘France’ is a $1,200 tiny house that snaps together in just 3 hours The interior space is compact, but the designers were able to outfit it with almost all of the basic amenities. There is a comfy sofa bed along with a small kitchenette that has a water tank, a gas cooker, a sink and plenty of secure drawers. A dining table with two chairs offers a nice place to eat and work. When nature calls, a humble chemical toilet was installed in a tiny water closet. Additionally, there is a heating stove that keeps the place nice and toasty. The home was built with a pitched roof, which gives the interior extra space for storage. Besides the custom built-in furniture , such as pull-out drawers under the sofa, there are multiple stretched nets hung on the walls for stashing away personal items. There is also a larger net that spans the length of the ceiling, adding a ton of space for storing sporting equipment, clothing, books and more. + Pin-Up Houses Images via Pin-Up Houses

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An itty-bitty tiny home on wheels is pretty in pink

Scientists find air pollution leads to a significant decline in cognition

August 28, 2018 by  
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It turns out pollution affects more than just the environment. New research shows there might be a correlation between significant air pollution and cognitive decline in humans. Scientists hope their research will lead to changes in how countries deal with excessive air pollution, especially in heavily populated urban areas. Over the course of several years, more than 25,000 people hailing from 162 different counties in China were studied. The researchers published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and are calling for China to reform its pollution policies. The researchers believe China can significantly increase the population’s education level by adhering to the U.S. EPA guidelines. So, how did researchers link pollution with cognitive decline? The scientists performed verbal and math exams on all of the subjects in 2010 and again in 2014. The data from the exams were then compared between the years, and the team linked these changes to  air pollution . The researchers found that the older subjects performed worse on the tests, which led the team to believe that pollution has a bigger effect on brains as people age. The study also showed that individuals with little education were more affected by pollution, possibly because they typically work outdoors. Although the researchers were confident in linking pollution and cognitive decline, they are not sure why it is happening. Xi Chen, study co-author and professor of health policy at Yale, believes that pollution could be harming white matter in the brain , a region that controls communication within this important organ. James Hendrix, the head of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Global Science Initiative, disagrees. Hendrix does not believe the researchers have any evidence to suggest that pollution is damaging white matter. He also argues that associating air pollution with cognitive deterioration is difficult, because there are too many other factors at play. Either way, it’s clear that air pollution is negatively impacting our health and our planet. + Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Via NPR Images via Fredrik Rubensson and  Nicolò Lazzati

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Scientists find air pollution leads to a significant decline in cognition

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