New study finds microplastics in fruits and vegetables

June 29, 2020 by  
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A recent study published in the journal Environmental Research has revealed that microplastics are absorbed in the fruits and vegetables we consume. According to the study, scientists have discovered that some of the most commonly consumed produce, including apples, carrots, pineapples, kale and cabbage, may be contaminated with high levels of plastic. The study found that apples and carrots are among the most contaminated fruits and vegetables. This new revelation is a cause for concern, considering that these are vital parts of the food chain. Doctors often recommend eating plenty of fruits and vegetables to boost the body’s immune system. However, the abundance of microplastics in such foods could erode their benefits and lead to more health complications. Related: One plastic teabag can release billions of microplastics into your cup The research publication highlighted the daily intake of plastic as being worrying for both children and adults. Although the amount of plastic consumed from fruits was found to be less compared to that in bottled water, there is still cause for concern. According to another study published in the journal Nature Sustainability , microplastics can be absorbed by the roots of lettuce. Once the microplastics are absorbed, they are transported to edible parts of the crops through the internal water and food transport systems. Several lobby groups are calling for more information about microplastics’ affect on the human body. According to Plastic Soup Foundation’s founder Maria Westerbos, the company has been raising concerns about the presence of microplastic in fish and other marine animals . The foundation is now concerned about the presence of plastic in produce and speculates that there could be microplastics in our meat products. “For years we have known about plastic in crustaceans and fish , but this is the first time we have known about plastic getting into vegetables,” Westerbos said. “If it is getting into vegetables, it is getting into everything that eats vegetables as well which means it is in our meat and dairy as well.” Studies are now underway to determine the effects of consuming too many microplastics per day in our bodies. + Environmental Research Images via Hans Braxmeier

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Record high amount of microplastic found on seafloors

May 6, 2020 by  
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Researchers in a new U.K.-led study found a staggering volume of microplastics on the seafloor. At up to 1.9 million pieces on a single square meter, it’s the highest level on record. “We were really shocked by the volume of microplastics we found deposited on the deep seafloor bed,” Dr. Ian Kane of the University of Manchester, lead author of the study, told CNN. “It was much higher than anything we have seen before.” Researchers collected sediment samples from the Tyrrhenian Sea off  Italy’s  west coast. While  garbage  patches composed of plastic bags, bottles and straws are old news, scientists say the floating plastic doesn’t even account for 1% of the 10 million tons of plastic that wind up in the oceans annually. The new study seems to confirm what scientists have suspected: much of that plastic is deep down on the seafloor. The study, published in  Science ,  concludes that episodic turbidity currents, which are akin to underwater avalanches, rapidly transport microplastics down to the seafloor. Then, deep-sea currents work like conveyor belts, transporting microplastics along the bottom of the ocean and accumulating in what researchers called “microplastic hotspots.” Most of these microplastics are fibers from  clothes  and textiles that waste water treatment plants fail to filter out because they are so tiny. This is the first time  scientists have directly linked currents to plastic concentrations on the seafloor. The study’s authors hope this work will help predict future hotspots and the impact of microplastics on marine life. Unfortunately, though the plastics may be tiny, they can have a huge impact. “Microplastics can be ingested by many forms of marine life,” said Chris Thorne, oceans campaigner at  Greenpeace  U.K., “and the chemical contaminants they carry may even end up being passed along the food chain all the way to our plates.” Thorne has called for people to rethink “throwaway plastic.” + CNN Images via Oregon State University , Bo Eide , and Dronepicr

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Isle of Man retreat is carbon-neutral and focused on conservation

April 23, 2020 by  
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The carbon-neutral Sartfell Restorative Rural Retreat is located on the Isle of Man, a self-governing island possession of the British Crown. The British Isle is known for its medieval history, museums, castles and rugged landscape. The product of a collaboration between architect Foster Lomas , local charity Manx Wildlife Trust and a retired couple with a background in biological science , medicine and education, this unique project was designed to blend seamlessly into its picturesque surroundings. The architectural program called for the restoration, conservation and management of 7.5 acres of nature reserve on Sartfell Mountain, with the building retreat at the core of the project. The architects at Foster Lomas applied their previous experience using drystone construction in the design of this particular retreat. The drystone was harvested onsite to promote the inclusion of local building materials, and the team designed the rooftop to mimic the vernacular. The firm made these specific choices so that the structure, over time, would physically become a part of the landscape with minimal site impact. Related: Carbon-neutral home in Australia conceals its energy efficiency with minimalist design Large, ribbon windows wrap around the building, providing spectacular and unique views of the looming Mountains of Mourne, the Irish Sea and the Mull of Galloway. The retreat’s central staircase shapes the building into a triangular plan that leads to the library and is topped with a clerestory section of wall framing the study. The architects designed and constructed the stairs to mimic and align with the mountains outside. The entire site is carbon-neutral . The building itself is equipped with ground source heating that harnesses the energy from a local lake as well as a natural processing sewerage system and a wind turbine. Before construction began, the design team monitored the surrounding weather conditions with the intent of capturing data to achieve the highest level of environmental performance possible for the building. The result is an immensely energy-efficient and gorgeous retreat with unbeatable views to boot. + Foster Lomas Photography by Edmund Sumner via Foster Lomas

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How to make a mask with fabric to wear or donate

April 20, 2020 by  
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Crafters began making fabric masks when the public learned that COVID-19 was causing a major shortage of personal protective equipment. But since the CDC changed its recommendation on April 3 to urge that everyone wears a mask when leaving the house, sewing machines around the world have been working harder than ever. Here’s what you need to know if you plan to make fabric masks to wear or to donate. “The efforts of home sewers are a beautiful expression of the desire to help our community and contribute their special skills,” said Erum Ilyas , board-certified dermatologist and founder of Montgomery Dermatology, LLC in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. However, textiles are not tightly woven enough to fully protect against the virus. “They are primarily designed to block bacterial spread given the risks these present in wounds during surgical procedures. Viral particles are much smaller than bacteria and simply escape through these textiles quite easily.” So while masks are a useful additional precaution against coronavirus , crafters should know upfront that cloth masks are insufficient for first responders, who need N-95 masks. Still, many medical professionals are wearing cloth masks over the N-95 masks. Everybody else should wear cloth masks in combination with social distancing and frequent hand-washing. Masks for donation Before you rev up your sewing machine and start stitching masks, figure out where you’re going to donate your finished products. Organizations of all sizes have popped up around the country to give home sewers guidance on materials, designs and delivery. Related: How to volunteer during COVID-19 “I got involved with Mask Match after my classmate heard about it on a podcast,” said Briana Corkill, a medical student in Phoenix. “It seemed like a great way to be helpful from home, especially since all of my clinical volunteer work has been put on hold.” Mask Match is a volunteer-run organization that accepts donations of high-filtration masks (N95, P95, R95 and KN95), surgical masks and fabric masks and delivers them wherever they are needed in the U.S. and Canada. If you want to donate homemade fabric masks, you must follow Mask Match’s guidance on materials and design. Other efforts are more localized. Vanderbilt University Medical Center is accepting hand-sewn masks, but only if people can deliver them in person in Nashville. However, its guidelines for making masks for children and adults are useful to people everywhere. Heide Davis, an Oregon-based artist, joined a Facebook group called Crafters Against Covid-19 PDX, which collects masks from home sewers. The group donates the masks to the Multnomah County Health Department, which distributes the non-medical grade masks to nursing homes, care homes and hospitals (for patient use). Davis, who collects secondhand and vintage fabric, pondered her choices. “I was a little unsure about what fabric I had that would be suitable,” she said. Fortunately, she heard that local couture designer Sloane White had started a mask production line. “She’d already cut out the masks and needed help sewing them together,” Davis said. “She gave me a bag of fabric that was already precut, washed, everything. And some elastic. And it was very lovely and generous and saved me from having to find the fabric.” Davis donated nearly 50 masks to the Multnomah County Health Department, plus another 15 for friends and family. Working with precut, partly sewn fabric, it still took about 8 hours for Davis to sew her donated masks. “You should know how to use your machine,” she said. “But it doesn’t take any more than basic sewing skills.” Making a simple mask Choosing the right fabric is an important decision. Ilyas referred to a 2013 Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness study that evaluated different household materials to determine how much each could filter particles and block the spread of influenza. “This study showed that cotton /polyester blends tend to be the most effective out of household materials while still maintaining breathability,” Ilyas explained. “This type of textile can be found in most T-shirts or pillowcases around the house. Despite rating the best in terms of blocking viruses and still maintaining comfort, these materials still only block about 70% of viruses. This makes them ideally suited for community and low-risk settings while still maintaining social distancing. It’s an added level of security to help minimize the risk of viral spread.” What if you lack a sewing machine but you want a mask for your own use? “Simple is best here,” Ilyas said. “This does not have to be complicated and should not be a reason to go to the store while we are urging everyone to stay home. I tend to recommend taking an old T-shirt or pillowcase and cutting a strip of fabric about 3-4 inches wide. Take two rubber bands and pull one along each side. Fold the fabric in and pull the rubber bands over your ears to hold in place.” Rubber bands are probably not the most comfortable thing to hold your mask in place, but they will do in a pinch for short jaunts to the store. You can also use yarn for a more comfortable fit if you have it on hand. The CDC posted several options on its site, including one for people who sew, a no-sew mask made from a T-shirt and a simple bandana mask. If possible, Davis recommends machine-sewing over hand-sewing . “ Machine stitches probably would hold up in the wash a little bit better than hand-done stitches. Because you want to be able to wash this thing a lot when you’re using it.” Wearing and caring for your mask Wearing a mask takes some getting used to and may feel uncomfortable or irritating. “Remember that when you use a mask, every time you manipulate it, touch it, move it around, your hands come close to your face and mouth,” Ilyas said. “Sometimes when people wear a mask, they find themselves touching their face far more frequently than normal. If you wear glasses, there is a lot of getting used to when it comes to wearing a mask as your glasses are sure to get foggy. Practice wearing your mask around the house first to get a sense of how you feel in it.” Ilyas suggested a gentle skin cleanser and nightly moisturizer to offset the effects of wearing a face mask for long periods of time. Related: How to properly dispose contaminated gloves, masks, wipes and more Whenever you go outside your house, your mask is accumulating additional germs. Frequent washing is important. “If you are using a fabric with a cotton/polyester blend, it should not be a problem to machine wash and tumble dry,” Ilyas said. “The key is to use the hot water setting on your washing machine, as viruses do require high temperatures to be killed in the water environment.” Ilyas mentioned the creepy fact that some viruses can live on the walls of your washing machine. To be extra careful, she recommends running an extra rinse cycle with just bleach to clean the washing machine walls after washing any clothes that are high risk for viral particles. Despite expert opinions that masks provide only a little extra protection from the virus, they still serve as an excellent visual reminder to stay a safe distance from others, leave the house only as necessary and stop touching your face. Images via Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat, Pixabay and Unsplash

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Wood waste strengthens recycled concrete, new study finds

February 27, 2020 by  
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Research from the University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science has revealed that discarded concrete can be strengthened with the addition of wood waste. This pioneering technique promises to be an environmentally friendly way to enhance concrete structures while simultaneously reducing construction costs and curtailing carbon emissions . It is hoped that this groundbreaking new method will help make better use of old concrete and any waste plant or wood materials. With traditional methods, reusing old concrete is unfeasible. The research team’s first author, Li Liang, explained, “Just reusing the aggregate from old concrete is unsustainable, because it is the production of new cement that is driving climate change emissions.” The team, therefore, sought to find a better approach, particularly one that would “help promote the circular economy of concrete,” according to the University of Tokyo. Related: 11 green building materials that are way better than concrete The innovative process involves taking discarded concrete and grinding it into a powder. Wood waste is also sourced from sawdust, scrap wood and other agricultural waste. Rather than sending this wood off to landfills, it is instead leveraged in the concrete recycling process for the key ingredient, lignin. Lignin is an organic polymer that comprises wood’s vascularized tissue and accounts for wood’s rigidity. The concrete, now in powder form, is then combined with water and the lignin to form a mixture. This mixture is both heated and pressurized, allowing for the lignin to become an adhesive that fills the gaps between the concrete particles. What results is a newly formed concrete with stronger malleability than the original concrete. Additionally, the lignin makes this new, recycled concrete more biodegradable . “Most of the recycled products we made exhibited better bending strength than that of ordinary concrete,” said Yuya Sakai, team lead and senior author of the study. “These findings can promote a move toward a greener, more economical construction industry that not only reduces the stores of waste concrete and wood , but also helps address the issue of climate change .” + The University of Tokyo’s Institute of Industrial Science Via New Atlas Image via Philipp Dümcke

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Atmospheric carbon dioxide at highest level in 3 million years

February 27, 2020 by  
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Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are now at the highest level they’ve been since the Pilocene Era, 3 million years ago, when giant camels roamed arid land above the Arctic Circle. According to a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA ) report, in 2018, the global average carbon dioxide amount reached a record high of 407.4 parts per million (ppm). NOAA points a finger directly at humans, noting that the atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased about 100 times faster annually over the past 60 years than from previous natural increases. “Carbon dioxide concentrations are rising mostly because of the fossil fuels that people are burning for energy,” the report said. “Fossil fuels like coal and oil contain carbon that plants pulled out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis over the span of many millions of years; we are returning that carbon to the atmosphere in just a few hundred years.” Related: Pacific Ocean’s elevated acidity is dissolving Dungeness crabs’ shells Globally, atmospheric carbon dioxide increased about 0.6 ppm per year in the 1960s. In the last 10 years, this figure has been about 2.3 ppm per year, the study said. Carbon dioxide absorbs and radiates heat more than other major atmospheric components, such as oxygen or nitrogen. The NOAA report likens greenhouse gases to bricks in a fireplace that continue to release heat after the fire goes out. This warming effect is necessary to keep Earth’s temperature above freezing — up to a point. But once the level gets out of balance, these greenhouse gas “bricks” trap too much heat and make the Earth’s average temperature continue to rise. Carbon dioxide also dissolves into the oceans , where it reacts with water molecules to produce carbonic acid and lower pH levels. Since the Industrial Revolution began in the late 18th century, the ocean’s pH has dropped significantly, interfering with marine animals’ ability to fortify their shells and skeletons by extracting calcium from the water. “For millions of years, we haven’t had an atmosphere with a chemical composition as it is right now,” Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London, told NBC News . “We’ve done in a little more than 50 years what the Earth naturally took 10,000 years to do.” + NOAA Via EcoWatch and NBC News Image via Marcin Jozwiak

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Meet the urban planner responsible for San Francisco’s car-free Market Street

February 18, 2020 by  
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Downtown San Francisco is putting pedestrians first by turning the 2-mile Market Street, a major hub for the city, into a completely car-free space. Inhabitat spoke with an urban planner of the esteemed Perkins and Will for more details about the groundbreaking, pedestrian-friendly project. While the complete redesign is expected to extend into the rest of the year, January 29 marked the official ban of cars on the thoroughfare. The structural transformation will include a restriction of public cars, but it will also implement newer two-way streets, intersection safety improvements and extensions for the Muni (the city’s public transit system). Buses, as well as a fleet of vintage streetcars, will also be able to operate along the street. Related: Perkins and Will designs modular, affordable housing for the homeless Inhabitat caught up with urban planner and developer Geeti Silwal from the San Francisco branch of design firm Perkins and Will . Silwal was an integral part of the design and development of the Market Street project. Her initial design created the vision and laid the foundation for the car-free initiative, taking close to a decade to finally come to pass. Inhabitat: The plan to make San Francisco’s Market Street car-free was 10 years in the making. Can you talk a bit about how this project began? Silwal: The project was initiated primarily to take advantage of the fact that Market Street needed to replace its aging utility that would need to be dug up soon. The city agencies took this opportunity to reimagine the role and identity of the city’s premiere boulevard. Working with six key city and county agencies, Perkins and Will led a team of urban designers, transportation planners, infrastructure engineers, public realm strategists, streetscape designers and wayfinding experts to lead this exploration. We started in 2011 meeting three demanding — and sometimes competing — objectives: placemaking, enhancing transit experience and improving infrastructure. In order to meet these objectives, we expanded the scope of the study to include Mission Street to help relieve the demands on Market Street. We analyzed: What if Market Street offered seamless transit transfers and relied on Mission Street to provide safe, pleasant, dedicated and buffered bike lanes? What if we minimized space dedicated to private vehicles to provide more space for pedestrians and bicyclists ? What is the right bike infrastructure to invite the 8- to 80-year-olds to ride on Market Street? Would this achieve our shared vision of Market Street as a destination to socialize and enjoy street life and to interact with public art , nature and each other?  We saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a beautiful street befitting the world-class city it represented. Prioritizing and structuring the street for people and public life over movement of private vehicles was a fundamental goal that the entire team got behind. Inhabitat: How do you feel now that this vision has come to life? Silwal: It’s gratifying. If you were to walk Market Street today and compare it to walking it the week before it went car-free , you’d notice a dramatic difference. Market Street now feels peaceful, safe and comfortable — it really feels like a completely different place. There has been a positive response from the media and people in general. We’ve heard many people say, “I took transit and it was so fast and so much better!” or “I biked Market Street and it feels as though I am in Amsterdam.” And this is only the beginning. More improvements will happen in the next few years as the future phases of the Better Market Street project unfold. Inhabitat: What do you think banning cars on some of San Francisco’s streets means for the rest of the country? Are there many other environmentally minded cities following suit? Silwal: The Better Market Street project was inspired by several cities in Europe, which have streets prioritized for pedestrians, cyclists and transit. There are many examples outside of Europe as well. I come from India, and in my home city, Shimla, the main streets in the mall and lower mall area are closed to traffic and are for pedestrian use only. We need to embrace the qualities of these streets that put ‘people first’. Market Street’s new image will be instrumental in inspiring other cities to rethink their streets. It will take strong political will, persistent public agency collaboration, community support and individual behavioral change to think beyond cars. Inhabitat: What about the design do you think was most integral to the environmental benefits of the project? Silwal: By not enabling private vehicles, people are encouraged to use low-carbon modes of transportation and subsequently, greenhouse gas emissions are dramatically reduced. By making Market Street safe, inviting, comfortable and efficient for pedestrians, cyclists and public transit users, people are more likely to take these modes of transit. Related: Car-free Sundays are the norm in Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá Inhabitat: We love your motto — Designing urban centers with the fundamental organizing principle of ‘people first’ creates more humane, inclusive and socially connected cities . What is important about putting pedestrians first in the fight against climate change? Silwal: We’re in a climate crisis , and we need to base our urban planning around it. Transportation is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. By prioritizing cars, we have structured our streets to promote that. If we design streets for the low-carbon modes, we will have a different outcome. I would say that ‘pedestrians first’ is fundamentally about a ‘people first’ approach. Designing cities that allow the majority of people to navigate their city on foot, bike or transit will result in a huge reduction in carbon emissions. Providing an efficient, enjoyable and a robust network of transit system reduces single-occupancy car trips.  We know that climate change impacts will have a more severe effect on the most vulnerable population of our cities. Planning for physical and social connectedness is an important criterion in dealing with climate change. Social connectedness that is about face-to-face interaction enables people to know, understand and empathize more with their fellow beings. It facilitates social resilience. A resilient city is better prepared to fight climate change. Inhabitat: Can you talk about safety, which was the other big concern before Market Street’s car ban went into effect? Silwal: Market Street has always been a popular street for the cyclist community, but it is also infamous for 20 times more collisions than similar streets in the state. Reducing conflict among pedestrians, cyclists and drivers was a key goal for this project. This change will make it much safer for commuting pedestrians and cyclists. Further enhancements to the bike infrastructure will be rolled out in future phases of the Better Market Street project that will have a dedicated and buffered environment for cyclists — making it even safer. Inhabitat: What’s next for you? Can we look forward to any other exciting sustainability projects in the future? Silwal: Through our urban design practice, Perkins and Will is continually planning, advocating and proposing for pedestrian/bike-prioritized connectivity in existing environments and new developments. Mission Rock is a project along San Francisco’s eastern waterfront on the Giants’ 25-acre surface parking lot. Mission Rock’s Shared Public Way will offer a new street prioritized for pedestrians, with limited vehicle movement. The Shared Public Way at Mission Rock will be a dynamic space with street rooms, stormwater gardens and tree groves that will create a lively and unique environment. These design elements serve as cues to differentiate pedestrian-dedicated areas from the shared pedestrian/vehicular zone. Vehicles on the Shared Public Way will be limited to one-way travel for drop-off, pickup and deliveries only. Besides streets, Perkins and Will is currently engaged in the Living Community Challenge (LCC) pilot project in the city of Sacramento called the Sacramento Valley Station Master Plan. “LCC is a certification program that guides the design and construction of buildings and neighborhoods to be socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative. LCC projects aim to have a net-positive impact in seven petals: place, water, energy, health & happiness, materials, equity and beauty.” This project plans to be a regenerative project. It plans to be a net-positive carbon, net-positive water and net-positive energy community around the regional intermodal mobility hub in Sacramento. We are privileged to work in an industry that lays the foundation for smarter, sustainable design that has a positive impact on the places and people that inhabit it. + Perkins and Will Images via Perkins and Will

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Climate crisis drives bumblebees closer to extinction

February 10, 2020 by  
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The climate crisis, rampant misuse of pesticides , lack of plant diversity, habitat loss, parasites and pathogens have collectively created the perfect storm for a decline in the bumblebee populations in both Europe and North America, according to the research team of Peter Soroye, Tim Newbold and Jeremy Kerr, who have recently published their findings in Science . The research shows that “Within just one human generation, the odds for bumblebee survival have dropped by an average of more than 30%.” The imminent mass extinction of bumblebees could mean a dreary future devoid of wild plants and many farmed crops, given that bumblebees are among the most crucial pollinators out there. Global warming has led to both temperature extremes and unpredictable precipitation. The combination of these atmospheric conditions has exacerbated local bumblebee extinction rates by reducing colonization, shrinking site occupancy and diminishing a habitat’s fertility to support the bumblebee population. Bumblebees tend to overheat, which is why they prefer more temperature regions. Related: Native bees are going extinct without much buzz But weather isn’t the only culprit. The dynamic use of land has contributed to habitat loss, and pesticide use has likewise resulted in a significant decline in these pollinators. Bumblebees are larger and fuzzier than honeybees. While they are not honey producers, they are still key pollinators. Many important fruits, nuts, vegetables and staple crops rely on bumblebees thriving. “When they land on flowers, they physically shake these flowers and shake the pollen off,” explained Peter Soroye, the study’s lead author. “A lot of crops like squash, berries, tomatoes need bumblebees to pollinate them, and honeybees or other pollinators just can’t do that.” In Europe, bumblebee populations decreased by an average of 17% between 1975 and 2000. For North American bumblebees, numbers plummeted by about 46% over the same period. These numbers indicate that the loss of bumblebees could adversely affect food diversity in the future.  “If things continue along the path without any change, then we can really quickly start to see a lot of these species being lost forever,” Soroye said. To mitigate against extinction, he recommended, “If you have a garden , fill it full of native plants that the bees can go visit.” + Science Via National Geographic and Reuters Image via Valerian Guillot

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Pacific Oceans elevated acidity is dissolving Dungeness crabs shells

February 5, 2020 by  
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A new study commissioned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and published recently on Science of the Total Environment journal has found that the rising acidity level of the Pacific Ocean is eating away at the carapaces and exoskeletons of Dungeness crabs, damaging their sensory organs. Even more worrisome, the pace of the damage, according to the study’s authors, is accelerating faster than what had originally been projected, foreshadowing an unpleasant future for Dungeness crabs if this trend continues. “If the crabs are affected already, we really need to make sure we pay much more attention to various components of the food chain before it is too late,” said research team lead Nina Bednarsek, a senior scientist with the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project. Related: Pacific heat wave threatens coral reefs in Hawaii and other regions Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels set in motion increased carbon dioxide absorption by the water, thus lowering the ocean’s pH levels. NOAA has reported that the ocean absorbs about one-third of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere via fossil fuel misuse and land-associated carbon emissions (ranching, logging, forest fires, etc.). As carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, the water becomes “more acidic and causes carbonate ions to be relatively less abundant.” These carbonate ions are necessary for Dungeness crabs and other marine organisms to create, build and maintain their exoskeletons. Besides crustaceans, other affected organisms include mollusks, echinoderms, corals and calcareous plankton. For the Dungeness crabs, especially their larvae, decreased carbonate ions in the acidic seawater means they are unable to craft exoskeletons to deter predators or even to normally develop. Delayed development further hinders maturation rates and, by extension, the species’ overall population growth. The researchers were also surprised to discover that with abnormal shells damaged by the low pH levels, many of the crabs were correspondingly without certain mechanoreceptors necessary for proper swimming and vital sensory and behavioral functions. Abnormal movements made them vulnerable to predatory attacks and similarly prevented them from properly searching for food. In aggregate, the crabs’ chances for survival into adulthood decreases. NOAA’s work has always been to inform local fisheries and conservation endeavors. It is hoped the study’s results will convince policy makers to take immediate action against rampant greenhouse gas emissions to curtail atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and reduce ocean acidification. + Science of the Total Environment Via CNN Image via Jerry Kirkhart

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Climate change-induced melting of mountain ice threatens global supply of freshwater

December 11, 2019 by  
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A study recently published in Nature found that glacier-based freshwater systems are highly threatened by climate change. Called “mountain water towers,” they supply water to communities in the downstream basin by generating and storing vast quantities of water from their high-elevation rain and snow. Unfortunately, ice melt is becoming more pronounced and precipitation patterns are disrupted, in turn placing these water towers’ storage capacity at critical risk. The study warns that the depletion of freshwater supplies and severe water shortages will become more evident, especially as “water stress, governance, hydropolitical tension and future climatic and socio-economic changes” put these natural water towers at risk. Narratives on climate change must shift to include discussions on mountain ice melt and loss and not just revolve around sea level rise. Related: IPCC landmark report warns about the state of the oceans, polar ice content and the climate crisis The research, authored by 32 scientists across the globe, recognized 78 mountainous regions as crucial water towers primarily found in Asia, Europe and the Americas. Based on the study, Asian water towers were the most vulnerable, particularly the Indus water system. “The study quantified for the first time both the natural water supply from the mountains as well as the water demand by society and also provided projections for the future based on climatic and socioeconomic scenarios,” said Tobias Bolch of the University of St. Andrews’ School of Geography and Sustainable Development. “The projected loss of ice and snow and increasing water needs makes specific densely populated basins located in arid regions, like the Indus basin in South Asia or the Amu Darya basin in Central Asia, highly vulnerable in the future.” Reliance on these water towers means these mountain ecosystems must be safeguarded. Jonathan Baillie, executive vice president and chief scientist at National Geographic Society, explained, “This research will help decision-makers, on global and local levels, prioritize where action should be taken to protect mountain systems, the resources they provide and the people who depend on them.” + Nature Image via Ashish Verma

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