West Antarctica’s bedrock is rising, providing some protection to melting ice

June 22, 2018 by  
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It seems that most news concerning Antarctica’s ice sheets is bad news, with two of the world’s fastest melting glaciers shrinking away in the continent’s western region. Fortunately, this same region is also home to an unusual geological feature that may provide some relief to the effects of climate change. In a new study published in the journal Science , researchers examined how the Earth’s surface seems to expand when heavy objects, such as glaciers , are no longer present and pushing down on the ground. According to data gathered from GPS sensors, the land beneath the Amundsen Sea Embayment in western Antarctica is rising at a rate of about two inches per year, one of the fastest rising rates ever recorded. As is often the case, the discovery of western Antarctica’s rising bedrock was made somewhat by chance. “[Study co-author] Terry Wilson and colleagues were extremely wise and lucky,” study co-author Valentina Barletta told Earther . “They had the really, really good idea [to place those sensors] with very few indication[s] that there might have been something special.” The researchers concluded that the land beneath the Amundsen Sea Embayment springs back because of a relatively fluid mantle beneath the surface, which is more capable of responding to changes above. Related: Scientists uncover giant canyons under the ice in Antarctica “This study shows this region of Antarctica has a very short memory,” Antarctica researcher Matt King told Earther, likening the local geological phenomenon to memory foam. Understanding the impact that rebounding land can have enables researchers to more accurately assess ice loss, the measurement of which has been incomplete due to a lack of knowledge about rising rock. The study also provides some hope to those who live in coastal areas, which may benefit from the potential slowing of melting ice by its rising higher than the warmer water . Via Earther Image via Depositphotos

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West Antarctica’s bedrock is rising, providing some protection to melting ice

8 tiny homes built tough for off-grid living

June 22, 2018 by  
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Many people mistake tiny homes for delicate structures that provide a minimal amount of space for simple living. But these modern tiny homes are proving that they can be just as resilient as any traditional home twice their size. Check out eight tiny homes that are built to withstand brutal climates and rugged landscapes while still offering residents the sustainable option of  off-grid living . NestHouse offers charm and energy efficiency Designed by Jonathan Avery of Tiny House Scotland , the beautiful NestHouse is a sustainable and energy-efficient tiny home. Hidden behind its endearing Scandinavian aesthetics, the home boasts impressive off-grid options like passive ventilation and solar. Related: This mini caravan with a telescopic roof is the stuff of off-grid dreams Payette Urban tiny home runs on solar power TruForm Tiny has made a name for itself by crafting made-to-order tiny homes, and the Payette Urban is one of our favorite models. The tiny home is as big on design and comfort as it is on energy efficiency. The house can utilize solar or wind power, offering residents more flexibility for their energy source. Father and son build tiny off-grid cabin in Wisconsin When Bill Yudchitz  and his son, Daniel, decided to bond over a tiny home project, they did not realize that the result would be so spectacular. The duo created a contemporary 325-square-foot home designed with minimal impact on the landscape. Installed with various sustainable technologies such as solar lanterns and a rainwater harvesting system, the light-filled home is a great example of tiny house design done right. $33K hOMe offers off-grid luxury on wheels It’s not often that a tiny home is considered luxurious, but this house is the exception. Built by Andrew and Gabriella Morrison , hOMe is a 221-square foot tiny house built to go off the grid with solar connections and a composting toilet . The structure can be mounted on a flat-deck trailer, allowing homeowners to tow and set up their homes virtually anywhere. Tiny flat-packed homes provide affordable housing Architect Alex Symes developed this flat-pack off-grid home as a solution to expensive city housing. Built with low environmental impact materials, Big World Homes are powered by solar energy and include rainwater harvesting systems. The homes can also increase in size with additional modules. World’s most active volcano harbors tiny off-grid home Located at the base of Mauna Loa volcano next to Kilauea, the tiny 450-square-foot Phoenix House — designed by ArtisTree — is a very cool Airbnb rental with some incredible eco-friendly features, such as solar power and a rainwater harvesting system. Built with recycled materials, the home is part of a local regenerative, off-grid community compound. Zero-energy retreat has a near-invisible footprint COULSON architects’ Disappear Retreat stands out for its ability to disappear from sight… and the grid. Built to Passive House Standards, the 83-square-foot mirrored home boasts a near-invisible footprint. According to the architects, the prefabricated retreat was strategically designed for “triple-zero living”: zero energy, zero waste and zero water. Old-fashioned caravan home is 100% self sustaining This hand-built caravan tiny home proves that sometimes state-of-the-art technology isn’t needed to get completely off the grid. Built by the father and son team known as The Unknown Craftsmen , the Old Time Caravan is crafted from reclaimed wood and relies on natural light to illuminate the interior. Images via © Jonathan Avery of  Tiny House Scotland ; TruForm Tiny ;  Revelations Architects/Builders ;  Tiny House Build ;  Big World Homes and Barton Taylor Photography; ArtisTree ;  COULSON architects and  The Unknown Craftsmen

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8 tiny homes built tough for off-grid living

Animals are becoming nocturnal to avoid humans

June 15, 2018 by  
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Researchers have learned that dozens of species of animals have reacted to increased contact with human beings by shifting their internal clocks to become more nocturnal. “It suggests that animals might be playing it safe around people,” study leader Kaitlyn Gaynor told Phys.org . “We may think that we leave no trace when we’re just hiking in the woods , but our mere presence can have lasting consequences.” In a new study published in the journal Science , Gaynor and her team analyzed data from 76 previous studies on 62 different animal species spread out over six continents and concluded that even relatively low-impact activities can affect animal behavior. Animals featured in this study, many of whom were mammals, include coyotes in California, wild boars in Poland, lions in Tanzania, tigers in Nepal, and otters in Brazil . To determine the effect of human behavior on sleeping patterns, researchers determined how long animals were active at night when affected by different kinds of human activities, such as hunting, hiking , and farming. The team concluded that human presence correlated with a 20 percent increase on average of nocturnal activity among the animals studied. Related: Dutch town helps out rare bat species by installing “bat-friendly” streetlights This research is among the first to explore and quantify how human behavior impacts animal activity and sleep patterns on a broad scale.  “No one else has compiled all this information and analyzed it in such a … robust way,” researcher Ana Benitez Lopez, who reviewed the study, told Phys.org. The study is a reminder that simply being in a wild space can fundamentally change it. “It’s a little bit scary,” ecologist Marlee Tucker, who did not participate in the study, told Phys.org. “Even if people think that we’re not deliberately trying to impact animals, we probably are without knowing it.” While some animals will struggle with adapting to night life, the shift may also provide benefits to animals who hope to share space with humans without ever dealing with them. Armed with new knowledge, I will nonetheless continue to hike and camp , because it helps me sleep. Via Phys.org Images via Depositphotos

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Animals are becoming nocturnal to avoid humans

SeagrassSpotter app empowers ocean lovers to become citizen scientists

June 15, 2018 by  
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Bet you don’t often think about seagrass , but this powerhouse plant supports thousands of marine creatures, sequesters carbon, cleans water, and generates oxygen — and it’s in trouble. Earth loses around two football pitches of seagrass every single hour, according to Wales-based charity Project Seagrass , and co-founder Richard Unsworth told Mongabay  that irregular mapping of seagrass meadows has hindered work to protect the plants. So Project Seagrass released their SeagrassSpotter app, with the hope that instead of a handful of researchers, thousands of citizen scientists will get on board with the conservation effort. “Saving seagrass means saving our seas,” Project Seagrass says on its website . Seagrasses, not to be confused with seaweed, take up just 0.1 percent of the seafloor but “are responsible for 11 percent of the organic carbon buried in the ocean .” Millions of people depend on seagrass for livelihoods and food. But seagrass meadows “are being lost at the same rate as rainforests and coral reefs ,” according to the SeagrassSpotter website . Overfishing, bad water quality, increased sedimentation, trampling, and boating threaten the plants. Related: New SubCAS technology enables scientists to better study deep-sea ecosystems Project Seagrass aims to build a more comprehensive picture of seagrass meadows to inspire scientific research and conservation measures with the SeagrassSpotter app, created in association with Swansea University and Cardiff University . People from beachgoers to SCUBA divers to fishers can get in on the action by submitting seagrass sightings. Unsworth told Mongabay, “We’re asking people visiting the coast or going out to sea — for diving, fishing, kayaking — to keep their eyes out for seagrass so that they can take a picture [to] upload to our website. The more people that get involved the more likely we are to develop a better understanding of the world’s seagrass.” Ready to help save seagrass? Download the app for iOS or Android . You can also submit seagrass sightings on the SeagrassSpotter website. Project Seagrass is shooting for at least 100,000 records; collected data will be freely available. + Project Seagrass + SeagrassSpotter Via Mongabay Image via Depositphotos

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Michigan adopts most robust lead water rules in US

June 15, 2018 by  
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In the wake of the Flint crisis, Michigan is adopting new lead water rules — the strictest in the U.S., according to Reuters . Lead service lines will have to be replaced, and the lead concentrations allowed in drinking water will be lower than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s standard. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Michigan Senior Policy Advocate Cyndi Roper said in a statement , “There is no safe level of lead in drinking water, so despite some troubling loopholes, these rules set an example other states and the Environmental Protection Agency could follow to address an issue plaguing water systems across the country.” More than 18 million Americans received water through systems with lead violations in 2015, the NRDC said . Lead contamination of drinking water still troubles people across the U.S., and Michigan is taking some action. Their new Lead and Copper Rule, as laid out in a statement from Governor Rick Snyder, lowers the level of allowable lead to 12 parts per billion (ppb) in 2025. The EPA’s Lead Action Level is 15 ppb . Related: Flint activist and stay-at-home mom wins the Goldman Environmental Prize All public water systems will be required to replace lead service lines at a rate averaging 5 percent a year starting in 2021 during a 20-year period. The rules also require a second sample collection at locations that obtain water from lead service lines and the creation of a statewide water system advisory council. All public water systems will have to conduct asset inventory under the new rules as well. “The new Michigan Lead and Copper Rule is the most stringent in the world when applied to cities with lead pipes, yet it strikes a reasonable balance between cost and benefit,” Virginia Tech University engineering professor Marc Edwards said in the governor’s statement. “It provides the EPA  with a good exemplar to follow, if they ever begin to wage their long-promised war on lead in water.” + Office of Governor Rick Snyder + Natural Resources Defense Council (1 , 2) Via Reuters Images via Depositphotos (1 , 2)

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Toxic chemicals found in small, furry animals decades after mine closure

June 15, 2018 by  
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The environmental impact of large-scale industrial activity can be felt long after the activity stops. A new study published in the journal ScienceDirect found that decades after the closure of the Giant Mine — located on the outskirts of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories province of Canada  — small animals still carried significant amounts of toxic chemicals, such as arsenic, in their fur. While high levels of arsenic had been documented in the soil, plants and fish near the Giant Mine, scientists had not previously documented the impact on small  mammals . Understanding the potential toxicity of these animals is important, as these creatures are still hunted for their furs and food, through which humans could also absorb the dangerous chemicals. The Giant Mine near Yellowknife contributed to the arsenic contamination of the surrounding area through its 55 years as an active gold mine. To extract gold from ore, it must be heated at extremely high temperatures. This process creates a toxic compound called arsenic trioxide, about 237,000 tons of which is buried underground near the mine site. Arsenic is naturally found within the Earth, often in gold-holding rocks. While arsenic usually seeps slowly into the environment through steady erosion of the rock, gold mining accelerates that process. Related: This moss can naturally eliminate arsenic from water Small mammals like the snowshoe hare often serve as early warning signs of an environment’s contamination . Because of the animal’s limited habitat range and diet of ground plants, the contaminant levels are often higher than other organisms. When snowshoe hares who lived near Giant Mine were tested for levels of arsenic, researchers found that their arsenic levels were 20 to 50 times higher than hares who lived elsewhere. Arsenic-contaminated wildlife often suffer from osteoporosis, neurological damage, reproductive issues and chronic metabolic disease. Scientists are most concerned that the arsenic contamination will find its way up the food chain, harming larger mammals, including humans. + ScienceDirect Via EcoWatch Images via Denali National Park and Preserve (1, 2)

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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 suggests that plastic waste may be transformed into usable energy

June 12, 2018 by  
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A new study from the Earth Engineering Center (EEC|CCNY) at the Grove School of Engineering of the City College of New York suggests that plastic waste can effectively be converted into usable fuel and energy rather than being dumped in a landfill or polluting the ocean. Researchers found that the addition of non-recycled plastics (NRPs) to a chemical recycling process known as gasification results in the production of crude oil -based fuel. It also reduces pollution, both plastic and emissions, in contrast to traditional methods of disposing of plastic waste, such as incineration or dumping. Plastic is a product derived from crude oil and, as such, contains significant latent energy that can be harnessed using the right technology and technique. “This study demonstrates that because carbon- and hydrogen -rich plastics have high energy content, there is tremendous potential to use technologies like gasification to convert these materials into fuels, chemicals and other products,” study co-author Marco J. Castaldi told Phys.org . As concerns rise over plastic pollution, scientists are looking to reframe plastic as a resource rather than waste . “Plastics have an end-of-life use that will be turning waste into energy, which is something we all need and use,” study co-author Demetra Tsiamis told Phys.org. Related: UN releases first “state of plastics” report on World Environment Day Gasification uses air or steam to heat plastic waste. This results in the creation of industrial gas mixtures called synthesis gas, or syngas. This syngas can either be converted into diesel and petrol or burned directly to generate electricity . This process is preferable to incineration of plastic waste because it allows for the storage of potentially usable energy that otherwise would be wasted through incineration. Gasification is also better for air quality, producing much lower levels of sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions. + Earth Engineering Center Via Phys.org Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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Some of the oldest and largest baobab trees are dying

June 12, 2018 by  
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A new survey of baobab trees throughout southern Africa has shown that most of the two dozen largest and oldest trees in the region have died in the past decade or are currently very ill. While human-caused physical damage to individual trees may explain specific die-offs, researchers believe that climate change, which is occurring faster in southern Africa than many places on Earth, may be the most significant factor in the trees’ poor health. “Such a disastrous decline is very unexpected,” chemist and survey organizer Adrian Patrut told NPR . “It’s a strange feeling, because these are trees which may live for 2,000 years or more, and we see that they’re dying one after another during our lifetime. It’s statistically very unlikely.” The iconic baobab are culturally important for many communities. A common myth explains the baobab’s unique shape as a result of gods punishing the tree for its vanity in its extraordinary size, with the baobab being uprooted and flipped upside down with its “roots” facing upwards. Baobabs can be cultivated for their nutritious leaves and fruit and may prove to be a source of economic development . The trees are also ecologically significant, providing habitat and food for a wide variety of mammals, birds, insects and reptiles. Related: Can this tree provide financial security for 10 million people in Africa? Because of their unique shape and growth patterns that distort their tree rings, accurate dating of a baobab is difficult. Despite some questioning of Patrut’s methods, researchers nonetheless recognize that baobab die-offs is an unsettling trend that deserves more study. As southern Africa likely faces intense temperature increases and drought , the urgency to understand and better protect the baobabs is clear. “The decline and death of so many large baobabs in recent years is so tragic,” ecologist David Baum told NPR . “It is heartbreaking that any should die — but even worse that we might be seeing the beginning of the end of all the giant baobabs on the planet.” Via NPR Images via Depositphotos (1, 2)

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Carbon Engineering cuts cost of carbon capture to less than $100 per ton

June 8, 2018 by  
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Carbon Engineering, a British Columbia -based company that has the financial backing of Bill Gates, has released a peer-reviewed study that demonstrates how the company’s technology is capable of capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a cost of less than $100 per ton. This price represents a significant drop from current costs, which can run as high as $600 per ton. “This is a real step forward, and it’s not just our company saying it,” Carbon Engineering co-founder David Keith told BBC News . “I hope this changes views about this technology from being this thing which people think is a magic saviour which it isn’t, or that it is absurdly expensive which it isn’t, to an industrial technology that is do-able and can be developed in a useful way.” Rather than storing the captured carbon, Carbon Engineering uses it to create a synthetic fuel with hydrogen , which is pulled from water using renewable energy. “What Carbon Engineering is taking to market is first of all carbon neutral fuels, in that sense we are just another emissions-cutting technology, there is no net removal from the atmosphere,” said Keith. The company claims that its fuel has a major advantage over traditional sources of biofuel due to its far less intensive water and land production requirements. Related: Bio-inspired membrane captures 90% of CO2 in power plant emissions While Keith has admitted that there are “hundreds of ways in which we can fail,” the technology developments at Carbon Engineering are promising. “Although direct air capture cost of around $100 per ton is still somewhat steep, in our current situation where sticks and carrots for similar technologies are sorely lacking, the cost can only be brought down through further development and streamlining of individual technologies and conjugated processes,” Edda Sif Aradóttir, who has worked on a project in Iceland that turns captured carbon into rock, told BBC News . Carbon Engineering’s latest announcement is a reminder that the biggest obstacle to taking serious action against climate change is political. “The biggest challenge we are facing is, however, that the words agreed on in the Paris agreement must be followed by actions,” said Edda. The technical solutions to climate change are already available but national legislations do not provide enough incentive or obligations for them to be applied at a large scale. This must change quickly if we are to [fulfill] the Paris agreement.” Via BBC News Images via Depositphotos

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