Fire ants swarm into floating rafts to survive Harvey

August 30, 2017 by  
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People battling flooding and destruction in Texas after Tropical Storm Harvey face yet another hazard: fire ants . Photos on social media show patches of ants floating together through floodwaters – and though this behavior isn’t entirely unheard-of, the insects are said to be naturally aggressive and have caused alarm among locals. Floating rafts of fire ants could pose a new threat to people struggling in the aftermath of Harvey around Houston . Fire ants are native to South America, coming from floodplains near the Paraguay River, so they already know how to handle waters. They form a large raft with their bodies, with ants on the bottom keeping the ones on top dry, and air pockets between the them allow the whole thing to float. Larvae and the queen are kept dry on the very top. Related: 6 ways you can help people affected by Tropical Storm Harvey The ants came to the United States back in the 1930’s, and have also made their way to China, Australia, and Taiwan, where they are described as an invasive species. According to The Guardian, the fire ants are extremely aggressive – they will sometimes attack as a group. They can sting people, and in some cases the sting can lead to a secondary infection. Allergic reactions have even led to death – potentially causing dozens of deaths in America. Louisiana etymologist Linda Bui has also conducted research that suggests fire ants release higher venom doses and become more defensive during floods. Etymologists observed similar raft behavior from fire ants in the wake of Hurricane Katrina . But photos of the ants banding together in Houston have understandably led to panic, such as one dramatic image of a huge swarm in Cuero, southwest of Houston. University of Texas curator of etymology Alex Wild said he’d never seen anything like the swarm in Cuero during his entire career researching ants. Via The Guardian Images via screenshot and Fox Keegan on Twitter / Bill O’Zimmermann on Twitter

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Fire ants swarm into floating rafts to survive Harvey

Megacities could save $505 million a year thanks to trees

August 30, 2017 by  
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Trees offer enormous monetary benefit to megacities , or those urban areas where over 10 million people reside. New research led by Theodore Endreny of SUNY’s College of Environmental Studies and Forestry highlights the idea that cities shouldn’t overlook the immense value of these plants: every year they could offer a payoff of $482 million in lowered air pollution , $11 million in stormwater remediation, $8 million in carbon dioxide sequestration , and $500,000 savings on heating and cooling costs. The researchers looked at Los Angeles, Beijing, Tokyo, Mumbai, Buenos Aires, Moscow, London, Istanbul, Mexico City, and Cairo. They built on estimates from the i-Tree model developed by the United States Forest Service , which analyzes environmental benefits from trees, with local data. They found median tree cover in all the cities was 21 percent, with potential tree cover at 19 percent. Tree cover varies by megacity – for example, in Cairo tree cover is just 8.1 percent while in Moscow it’s 36 percent. Tokyo claims the prize for greatest tree canopy cover per person, according to CityLab. Related: California street trees are worth $1 billion, says USFS and UC Davis The benefits each megacity reaps from trees varies some as well. Cairo doesn’t receive much precipitation so they don’t benefit that much from stormwater remediation. And Mumbai’s energy expenditures aren’t as high as other megacities’ so it doesn’t benefit as much in that area. Los Angeles got the most benefit from trees sequestering carbon dioxide. The researchers suggest cities plant more trees to nearly double the benefits gleaned from the leafy canopies. And as nearly 10 percent of humans live in megacities, the move could serve millions of people. The journal Ecological Modelling made the research available online at the end of July. Six researchers at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and the Parthenope University of Naples contributed to the study. Via CityLab Images via Laith Abdulkareem on Unsplash and Florian ? on Unsplash

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Facial deformities in Uganda apes linked to pesticide use

August 29, 2017 by  
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Our pesticides may be harming animals that live nearby, according to new research. A group of 10 scientists led by Paris’ Musée de l’Homme and the Great Ape Conservation Project at Kibale National Park in Uganda found baboons and chimpanzees with facial deformities near an agricultural area where they were told around eight pesticides had been used. 25 percent of chimpanzees the researchers monitored displayed abnormalities like reduced nostrils, reproductive issues, hypopigmentation, cleft lip, or limb deformities. Kibale National Park is close to industrial tea plantations and gardens growing maize, which are often raided by the chimps and baboons, according to the researchers. But it appears pesticides in the crops they’re taking are harming them. Related: Bee-killing pesticides have been found in US drinking water The researchers asked people in tea factories and villages what pesticides were being used, and were told of eight: glyphosate , cypermethrin, profenofos, mancozeb, metalaxyl, dimethoate, chlorpyrifos , and 2,4-D amine. They took samples from soils, fresh maize stems and seeds, and river sediments near where chimpanzees reside between 2014 and 2016 and discovered mean pesticide levels were above recommended limits. They also found the pesticides imidacloprid and DDT, as well as its metabolite pp’ -DDE. And it appears these pesticides may be affecting the animals. Out of 66 chimpanzees monitored, 16 had deformities. The scientists also photographed 35 baboons, and at least six had severe nasal deformities. The researchers said in the abstract of their paper they think “excessive pesticide use…may contribute to facial dysplasia in chimpanzees and baboons.” The suggestion that our agricultural practices are physically altering animals is horrifying; the researchers noted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists chimpanzees as endangered . The animals are also of economic importance in Uganda as they draw in ecotourists. The researchers said it may be a conservation priority to minimize threats to their survival, as the use of pesticides may be. The journal Science of The Total Environment published the research online earlier this year. Scientists from institutions in France, Uganda, Canada, and the United States collaborated on the work. Via ScienceDirect Images via Wikimedia Commons ( 1 , 2 )

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Edible schoolyards sprout across war-torn Syria

August 29, 2017 by  
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As the civil war continues into its sixth year, millions of Syrians remain in the divided, war-torn country. To meet basic needs and provide young people with a healthy place to play and learn, schoolyards across the country are being reborn as vegetable gardens . At these edible playgrounds, children learn how to grow tasty, nutritious treats, like peppers, eggplants, and cabbages. Then, when the time is right, they are able to harvest and eat what they have grown. This transformative experience offers students and their families an empowering experience of caring for one’s self and others. Young people, whose bodies and minds are rapidly developing, are particularly vulnerable to food scarcity and malnutrition . “Good nutrition is a child’s first defense against common diseases and important for children to be able to lead an active and healthy life,” said Adam Yao, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) acting representative in Syria. FAO provides funding and logistical support for 17 primary schools to plant 500 square meter fruit and vegetable gardens. These gardens are being installed in both government and opposition-controlled territory, so that young people will be able to access healthy food regardless of the politics and violence that surrounds them. Another 35 schools are scheduled to receive an edible playground in the near future. Related: Food-starved Syrians are switching meat for mushrooms Many Syrians now depend on bread and food aid from relief organizations to meet their nutritional needs. This sparse diet is far from traditional Syrian cuisine, which includes dishes such as hummus, minced lamb with spices and pine nuts, vibrant salads, stuffed cabbage leaves, and vegetable stews. These dishes are more are well served by the edible schoolyards , which provide some of the rich vegetables that have become scarce during the civil war. Further investments in agriculture could help to secure the population for years to come. “ Agriculture has become a hope for (many) because they can grow their own food and survive – even in the besieged areas,” said Yao. The seeds planted in the minds of these young children may someday yield a brighter, healthier Syria at peace. Via Reuters Foundation, FAO Lead image via FAO / Zaki Khozam , eggplants via Deposit Photos , others via Celine Nadeau/Flickr and DFID/Flickr

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Trump administration halts study on health risks of living near coal mining sites

August 25, 2017 by  
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The Donald Trump administration seems to be plugging its ears against the mention of any health risks of residing near coal mines. His Department of the Interior (DOI) recently shut down a study on potential health impacts for such people in Central Appalachia, reportedly citing a changing budget. The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign representative Bill Price told The Washington Post, “It’s infuriating that Trump would halt this study…that people in Appalachia have been demanding for years.” The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine were conducting a study on health risks for people living near surface coal mining sites when they were told to stop by the DOI as the agency reviewed projects needing more than $100,000. The National Academies was still allowed to hold scheduled meetings in Kentucky earlier this week. But they’ve been told to cease all other work on the project. Related: Montana judge stops massive coal mine expansion, citing climate impact Central Appalachia coal mining sometimes employs mountaintop removal , a practice scientists say is particularly destructive . Price told The Washington Post, “Everyone knows there are major health risks living near mountaintop removal coal mining sites, but communities living with daily health threats were counting on finally getting the full story from the professionals at the National Academies of Science.” The National Mining Association seemed to stand behind the Trump administration’s move, pointing to an analysis from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences examining multiple reports which said the studies usually didn’t account for lifestyle and extraneous health effects. The association also pointed to a United States Energy Information Administration analysis saying mountaintop mining only comprises under one percent of coal production and a study of health impacts may be unnecessary. The National Academies said they believe the study is important and they stand ready to continue the work, hoping they’ll be allowed to continue. But they don’t know the end date of the DOI’s review. Via The Washington Post Lead image via Pixabay , others via iLoveMountains.org on Flickr and Pixabay

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Why Alaska’s vanishing permafrost worries researchers

August 24, 2017 by  
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Permafrost is losing in the battle against climate change . Even as we attempt to mitigate climate change by reducing fossil fuel use, researchers say thawing permafrost could make our atmosphere 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit hotter over the next few centuries. Parts of Alaska’s permafrost are especially vulnerable: the New York Times reports a large amount of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge’s permafrost could disappear by the middle of the century. Permafrost could contain around double the amount of carbon in our atmosphere right now. And it’s melting. Scientists from the Woods Hole Research Center , recently studying Alaska’s permafrost, think its fate could be the most urgent of the effects of climate change. As permafrost thaws, microbes convert some of its material into methane and carbon dioxide, which could lead to more warming. Related: Dramatic disintegration of Canadian permafrost threatens huge carbon release Woods Hole scientists set up a temporary field station in July in the wildlife refuge to drill permafrost cores to analyze for carbon content. Deputy director Max Holmes told The New York Times permafrost loss “has all kinds of consequences both locally for this region, for the animals and the people who live here, as well as globally.” Land can slump when permafrost melts, damaging infrastructure . The process of permafrost thawing can alter the landscape, prompting lakes to drain or leading to elevation changes that impact water flow through the land. Scientists haven’t pinned down an exact number of how much carbon is being released from permafrost, but one estimate puts it at 1.5 billion tons a year for emissions averaged during the rest of the century. That’s about the amount generated every year by burning fossil fuels in the United States right now. Scientists also aren’t decided on when – or how much – of Alaska’s permafrost will go. And it would likely take thousands of years for the full depth of permafrost to melt entirely. But University of Alaska researcher Vladimir Romanovsky told The New York Times recent work has revealed permafrost “is not as stable as people thought.” Via The New York Times Images via NPS Climate Change Response on Flickr and Wikimedia Commons

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Scientists observe ‘diamond rain’ similar to that found on icy giant planets

August 24, 2017 by  
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You may have heard that icy planets like Neptune and Uranus experience diamond rain. But now, scientists have been able to mimic conditions of those planets and observe diamond rain at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California. Since it’s difficult for us at this point to directly observe the interiors of these planets, such research could help scientists better understand and classify worlds. For a long time, scientists have hypothesized that diamond rain arises over 5,000 miles below the surface of planets like Neptune and Uranus. In this recent experiment, a group of researchers simulated the conditions of these planets “by creating shock waves in plastic with an intense optical laser ” in the laboratory , according to a recent press release. They were able to observe that almost every carbon atom of the plastic was incorporated into diamond structures. The diamonds were tiny – only around a few nanometers wide – but on Uranus and Neptune, the researchers think the falling diamonds could weigh millions of carats. Related: Mysterious object near Neptune just made space a lot weirder Study lead author Dominik Kraus of research center Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf said in a statement, “We can’t go inside the planets and look at them, so these laboratory experiments complement satellite and telescope observations.” The scientists think diamond rain could produce an energy source, generating heat as it falls. Beyond observing a neat phenomenon, the experiment could help scientists learn about how elements mix together under pressure in the interiors of planets, providing them with more information on a planet’s defining features. These researchers plan to apply their methods to study the processes of other planets as well. Nature Astronomy published the study online this week. 23 scientists of institutions in Germany, Japan, the United States, and the United Kingdom contributed to the research. Via SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory Images via Greg Stewart/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

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Scientists observe ‘diamond rain’ similar to that found on icy giant planets

How long US residents have to wait until the next solar eclipse

August 22, 2017 by  
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If you find yourself wanting more after yesterday’s highly-anticipated total solar eclipse , don’t fret. In just 2,422 days, or approximately seven years, another “once in a lifetime” event will occur in the United States. The total solar eclipse will take place on April 8, 2024, and its path will include cities like Dallas and Indianapolis. Technically, the next solar eclipse will occur outside of the U.S. on July 2, 2019. Only those in South American countries such as Chile and Argentina will be able to view it, however. For this reason, U.S. citizens should mark their 2024 calendars. On April 8, 2024, according to NASA , the solar eclipse will travel from Mexico to Texas, proceed through Illinois and New York, glance Maine, and then leave land in Newfoundland. Related: Trump plans to strip NASA’s earth science division, promote mission to Mars Though seven years is not a long stretch of time, a lot is expected to change by 2024. Not only will self-driving cars become more widespread, sophisticated innovations to make viewing eclipses safer and more enjoyable will likely be invented. For now, aspiring astronomers can look forward to July 31, 2018, when Mars makes its closest pass to the Earth in its orbit. NASA reports, “This is very close to Mars ‘opposition’ where the sun, Earth, and Mars line up. This happens once every 26 months and is important because Mars is relatively small and its distance from Earth varies greatly.” On that date, Mars will be 57,590,630 km from Earth. As a result, most backyard telescopes should be able to pick up its southern polar cap and a few surface features. Via NASA , Recode Images via Pixabay, NASA

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Three glass arms and a sunken visitor center enhance this renovated Dutch park

August 22, 2017 by  
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Some people have a wonderful knack for devising new ways of seeing the world – including Studio Maks and Junya Ishigami + Associates, who designed this sublime park expansion in the Netherlands . The new triangular-shaped visitor center in Park Vijversburg acts as an extension of the adjacent historical villa, while ensuring minimal impact on the parkland. Three sweeping glass corridors extend from the center, providing visitors with a more immediate perspective of the surrounding landscape. The addition to the recently refurbished park aims to accommodate the increasing number of visitors by providing new exhibition and meeting spaces. Studio Maks’ Marieke Kums and Tokyo-based architect Junya Ishigami designed the center as a partially sunken single-floor structure that has minimal impact on the site. Related: New light-filled learning center celebrates the food history of one of Denmark’s oldest towns Its three curved arms are fully glazed and free of columns and other structural elements. This creates an uninterrupted flow and views of the parkland , while giving a floating appearance to the roof. “We wanted to make a most subtle intervention,” Kums said. “Although the pavilion is an architectural project, it was designed and imagined as part of the landscape.” Rotterdam studio LOLA Landscape, Utrecht-based Deltavormgroep, Hummelo-based Piet Oudolf and Frankfurt-based artist Tobias Rehberger designed an additional 15 hectares of new landscape. + Studio Maks + Junya Ishigami + Associates Via Dezeen Photos by Iwan Baan

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Three glass arms and a sunken visitor center enhance this renovated Dutch park

Rex Tillerson advises diplomats to sidestep questions about the Paris climate deal

August 9, 2017 by  
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US Secretary of state Rex Tillerson told diplomats to sidestep questions about whether the US will reconsider its withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, according to the Guardian. Last Friday Tillerson sent a cable to embassies that also directs diplomats to tell foreign officials the United States is prepared to help facilitate fossil fuel transactions in other countries – despite the unanimous agreement that climate change comprises one of most significant threats to existence humanity has ever encountered. In 2015, nearly 200 countries signed the Paris deal , agreeing to limit global warming by spewing less carbon dioxide emissions . The Obama administration signed the agreement, but Trump promptly reneged on America’s commitment to cut emissions by up to 28 percent by 2025. The cable warns diplomats to expect questions similar to the following: “Does the United States have a climate change policy?” and “Is the administration advocating the use of fossil fuels over renewable energy?“ “What is the process for consideration of re-engagement in the Paris Agreement?,” the answer should be vague, according to the cable. For example, “We are considering a number of factors. I do not have any information to share on the nature or timing of the process.” Related: CA communities sue several fossil fuel companies over climate change While Trump hinted in June that he might reconsider his withdrawal from the agreement, that’s probably not going to happen, according to the cable Tillerson sent. He wrote, “there are no plans to seek to re-negotiate or amend the text of the Paris Agreement.” However, it clarifies, “The president is sincere in his commitment to look for a path to re-engage that takes into account his concerns for US economic growth and energy security.” Meanwhile, scientists from 13 federal government agencies compiled a draft report that shows in no uncertain terms that the effects of climate change pose a direct threat to the United States – today, not tomorrow. The New York times released the draft report yesterday . The EPA has not responded to Guardian requests for comment. Via The Guardian Images via US State Department

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