Study finds 90 percent of table salt contains microplastics

October 18, 2018 by  
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According to a new study that observed sea, rock and lake salts, 90 percent of the table salt brands sold around the world contain microplastics. Several years ago, researchers discovered that microplastics were in sea salt, but no one was certain just how extensive the problem was until now. National Geographic reported that researchers in South Korea and at Greenpeace East Asia tested 39 salt brands, and 36 of them contained microplastics. This study — published in this month’s journal of Environmental Science & Technology — is the first of its kind to look at the correlation between microplastics in table salt and where we find plastic pollution in the environment. Related: Study suggests the average person consumes 70,000 microplastic bits every year “The findings suggest that human ingestion of microplastics via marine products is strongly related to emissions in a given region,” said Seung-Kyu Kim, a marine science professor at Incheon National University in South Korea. The salt samples came from 21 countries in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa. The three brands that did not contain microplastics were refined sea salt from Taiwan, refined rock salt from China and unrefined sea salt produced by solar evaporation in France. The density of microplastics in salt varied among the different brands. The study found that the tested Asian brands of salt contained the highest amounts, especially in the salt sold in Indonesia. An unrelated 2015 study found that Indonesia suffered from the second-worst level of plastic pollution in the world. Researchers found that  microplastic levels were highest in sea salt, followed by lake salt and rock salt. This latest study estimates that the average adult consumes about 2,000 microplastics each year through salt. But how harmful that is remains a mystery. Because of knowledge gaps and a mismatch of data in more than 300 microplastic studies, there is limited evidence to suggest that microplastics have a significant negative impact. Microplastics could be detrimental to our health and the planet, or the focus on microplastic could be diverting attention from worse environmental problems. + Environmental Science & Technology Via National Geographic Image via Bruno

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Meat consumption must drop by 90% to avert a climate crisis

October 16, 2018 by  
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While the meat industry’s negative impacts on the environment have proved troublesome for some time, an assembly of scientists from various European research institutes have released a thorough analysis of the Earth’s food system that shows if farming practices and food trends continue unchecked, the planet’s capabilities of feeding the global population will be decimated within the coming decades, and global warming will not be able to stay under 1.5 degrees Celsius. Greenhouse gas emissions, land and water consumption, deforestation , biodiversity loss and aquatic dead zones are the central burdens of agriculture evaluated by experts. However, this year’s research study determined a new problem — food supply — to be the most concerning of all. With a booming population that is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, the environmental damages are enough that widespread food insecurity is knocking on our door. Related: Look out, meat industry – flexitarianism is on the rise “It is pretty shocking,” said Marco Springmann, lead researcher from the University of Oxford. “We are really risking the sustainability of the whole system.” The team examined precise data from every country to assemble the most comprehensive assessment of food production and global environment to date. Their diagnosis? Surviving within environmental limits requires a drastic reduction in meat consumption. “Feeding a world population of 10 billion is possible, but only if we change the way we eat and the way we produce food,” explained Professor Johan Rockström from Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Greening the food sector or eating up our planet: this is what is on the menu today.” While the problem requires multi-dimensional confrontation from technological , governmental and social standpoints, the experts are encouraging dietary changes on an individual level. The study recommends an astounding 90 percent reduction in meat consumption and a 60 percent cut in milk consumption for people in countries such as the U.S. and U.K., as well as the adoption of more sustainable farming practices, in order to keep temperature rise under control. “There is no magic bullet, but dietary and technological [farming] change are the two essential things, and hopefully they can be complemented by reduction in food loss and waste,” Springmann said. Calling it the “flexitarian” diet, the researchers recommended a surge in bean , pulse, nut and seed consumption to replace the standard meat intake. Taking the average world citizen, the diet stresses a 75 percent cut in beef, a 90 percent cut in pork and a 50 percent cut in egg consumption to halve livestock emissions and help the planet return to sustainable levels. “Ultimately, we live on a finite planet, with finite resources,” said University of Leeds professor Tim Benton on the study, in which he did not take part. “It is a fiction to imagine there is a technological solution allowing us to produce as much food as we might ever want, allowing us to overeat and throw food away.” + Nature Via The Guardian Images via Andrik Langfield and Deryn Macey

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Maya Bay closes following extensive environmental damage from tourists

October 11, 2018 by  
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The Thai beach that Leonardo DiCaprio made famous in his 2000 movie The Beach is closing indefinitely thanks to the damage caused by millions of tourists . Maya Bay, one of the most popular destinations in the world, is a small beach with silky sands and crystal blue water surrounded by cliffs on Ko Phi Phi Leh island. But over the years, it has sustained such massive environmental damage from pollution that authorities have closed it for at least a year. The movie may not have been a hit for DiCaprio, but the film’s location became so popular for tourists that up to 5,000 people and 200 boats visited each day. Thai authorities had originally announced they would close Maya Bay for four months. They have extended the plan to at least a year because of the extent of the destruction. Litter, boats and sunscreen have caused so much pollution, it has destroyed over 80 percent of the coral around the bay. Related: University of Queensland wants to drop “bommies” on the Great Barrier Reef “We have evaluated each month and found out that the ecological system was seriously destroyed from tourism of up to 5,000 people daily,” said Songtam Suksawang, the director of Thailand’s national parks department. “It’s very difficult to remedy and rehabilitate because its beach was completely destroyed as well as the plants which cover it.” He added that there had been evidence of damage to Maya Bay for years, but the government was reluctant to close it down because of the amount of annual revenue it generates — 400 million baht (about $12.3 million). Thailand’s department of national parks, wildlife and plant conservation has said it will not lift the tourism restriction until the ecosystem “fully recovers to a normal situation.” According to The Guardian, this is a relief for local environmental activists who had argued that closing for just four months wasn’t enough. It will take years for the reef to be fully restored, because coral only grows about half a centimeter each year. Worapoj Lomlin, Maya Bay park chief, said the parks agency has already planted more than 1,000 corals to help rehabilitate the reefs, and the team will continue to expand the project. Via The Guardian Image via Joan and Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy Ooi

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Scientists working to help manatees poisoned by Florida red tide

September 7, 2018 by  
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The toxic red tide has been raising states of emergency within Florida counties over the past few months. The harmful algal blooms are causing extensive fish deaths as well as sickness and death in sea turtles, birds and marine mammals, including manatees. Scientists at Florida International University (FIU), in coalition with Mote Marine Laboratory , are racing against the clock to neutralize the poisonings with a new treatment. Red tide accounts for 10 percent of manatee deaths in the last decade. Because of the current bloom cycle, that could jump to a tremendous 30 percent in the near future. Thanks to a $428,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ECOHAB program , a three-year program is being launched by FIU and Mote to improve veterinary care for rescued manatees affected by the Florida red tide. The project allows scientists to study cellular immune responses in the marine mammal to various antioxidant treatments. “The current approach is simply to give palliative care and wait for them to clear the toxin and get better,” explained Kathleen Rein, the FIU chemist that is leading the research team in tandem with colleague Cathy Walsh, a marine immunology expert at Mote’s labs. Related: Manatees taken off the endangered species list – but that may not be good The current treatment, which uses anti-inflammatory substances, just isn’t ebbing the tide. “This new treatment could accelerate the healing process,” Rein said. “If this treatment is successful, it could be used with many other animals including dolphins, turtles and birds.” The manatee recently advanced from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list to threatened status. However, the current Florida red tide bloom, which is continuing without any predictions on its duration, has already claimed more than 103 of the 575 manatee deaths this year — almost 18 percent. “The need for better treatment is underscored by the current, long-lasting bloom of Florida red tide and its intense impacts on Florida manatees,” Walsh said. With the current red tide bloom being the worst the state has endured since 2005, the situation is critical. + Florida International University + Mote Marine Laboratory Image via Ramos Keith / U.S Fish and Wildlife Service

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Chicago snags green city spotlight for second year running

August 24, 2018 by  
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A new study has revealed Chicago to be the greenest city to work in within the U.S for the second consecutive year. About 70 percent of the Windy City’s office spaces are certified for energy efficiency, up from 66 percent last year. Other top cities include San Francisco, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Each year, the U.S. Commercial Real Estate Services (CBRE Group) surveys buildings in the 30 largest U.S real estate market areas and evaluates the results in collaboration with  Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Results depend on the amount of square footage of LEED – or Energy Star-certified commercial buildings constructed within a city. This year’s records show an extraordinary total of 4,700 green buildings in these 30 areas. The total square footage now accounts for 41 percent of all office spaces. CBRE Senior Vice President David Pogue revealed that green certification has “become a proxy for good building management,” in recent years. “Particularly in the services sector, a lot of their energy use and environmental impact is in the buildings they occupy, so the tenant base is demanding this, and institutional financiers also believe a sustainable building is a better building,” he said. According to the EPA, commercial buildings account for approximately 19 percent of total energy use in the country. As such, they are often the largest contributors of carbon emissions within cities. To combat this, LEED certification was established by The Green Building Council, which recognizes Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) through evaluation of aspects such as water systems and energy efficiency. Similarly, the EPA’s own Energy Star program focuses on strict performance standards in the energy category. “So many buildings have become dependent on this as a way of demonstrating quality to investors and corporate tenants,” Pogue added. “It’s going to cause every building to go back and reconsider what their energy use is — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.” Chicago is well on its way to reaching its goal of 100 percent renewable energy in city-run properties by 2025. Close competitors include San Francisco, with 64 percent of its office spaces certified as energy-efficient. Also notable is Los Angeles, which has the most Energy Star buildings, 716 in total, compared to Chicago’s 339. Via Bloomberg Images via Alan Stark and Michel Curi

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Previously stable zones of Antarctica are now falling victim to climate change

August 1, 2018 by  
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Unlike its counterpart, West Antarctica, which has long been decimated by melting ice caps, East Antarctica used to be a safe zone – something scientists could depend on as a constant while they solved the more pressing destruction in the western part of the continent. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. According to  research unveiled last week in the journal  Geophysical Research Letters , despite the higher elevation and colder temperatures found in the eastern portion of the Antarctic continent, warm ocean currents and rising global temperatures are now destabilizing two of its glaciers. The research has chronicled the lives of two glaciers in the coldest region on Earth for the past 15 years. These glaciers shield the Eastern zone’s land ice, descending from the ice directly toward the sea. This creates a naturally formed dam that, if disturbed, would affect the ice that covers the rest of the region by subjecting it to the warming ocean waters. The melting of these two massive glaciers alone would raise sea levels more than 16 feet (five meters), undoubtedly compromising the rest of the territory. In an interview with Earther , Yara Mohajerani, lead expert in the study and PhD candidate at the University of California, explained, “The East Antarctic ice sheet contains much more ice and sea level potential than any other ice sheet by far, making it of crucial global significance.” Past research has shown the disappearance of similar glaciers in the East Antarctic region when carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have reached levels comparable to those found today as a result of human activities. Related: Scientists uncover giant canyons under the ice in Antarctica Scientists believe that, due to the circulation of warm ocean water under the two glaciers, they’ve been losing mass for quite some time. To help quantify the losses, NASA provided the researchers with its Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite, which measures small changes in gravity. GRACE collected data from 2002 to 2017, and the new study reveals that the glaciers are losing 18.5 gigatons of ice each year, or the equivalent of 7.4 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. While this is minuscule in comparison to losses in the rest of Antarctica, the location of these glaciers makes their survival central to the discussion of East Antarctica’s stability and, therefore, the state of the continent as a whole. + Geophysical Research Letters Via Earther

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Astounding responsive map shows shark interactions with commercial fishers

July 24, 2018 by  
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Just in time for the 30th Anniversary of Discovery Channel’s popular Shark Week, a new map shows the interaction of 45 sharks  with commercial fishing vessels. The interactive map, featuring over 150,000 miles of chartered shark territory and movement in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, seeks to shed light on the perilous environment in which the sharks maneuver on a daily basis and the approximate 100 million sharks killed each year. Austin Gallagher, CEO and chief scientist of Beneath the Waves and a project leader on the maps, said , “Many species of large sharks remain highly vulnerable throughout our oceans , and the integration provided here highlights the magnitude of the threats they face.” Shark expert at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and project collaborator Neil Hammerschlag explained that sharks are “highly mobile,” as demonstrated in the charted data published on the Global Fishing Watch , a non-profit organization launched by Oceana in collaboration with Google and Skytruth. Related: Endangered shark fins discovered on a Singapore Airlines flight to Hong Kong The sharks must navigate around fishing vessels,  creating a wide variety of potentially dangerous interactions. Hammerschlag said, “Many fishing gear types can put these sharks at risk , as both target and bycatch — especially in the international waters of the high seas where no catch limits exist for many shark species.” Many sharks are caught by accident, but they are also subject to targeted hunting for their fins. While the map currently displays recorded data of sharks tagged between 2012 and 2018, Oceana hopes to create a real-time interactive map that includes various shark species including blue sharks, great hammerheads and tiger sharks. Lacey Malarky, an Oceana analyst focused on illegal fishing and seafood fraud, said, “We’re hoping to expand and collaborate with more researchers to not only get more shark data but then other marine wildlife data as well, so that we can really create this interactive map platform that shows all types of marine wildlife and how they’re interacting with fishing vessels.” + Oceana + Beneath the Waves Via EcoWatch

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A new study reveals that urban green spaces may be an antidote to depression

July 23, 2018 by  
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A recent study shows that symptoms of depression can be reduced for people who have access to green spaces. Researchers in Philadelphia transformed vacant lots in the city into green spaces and found that adults living near these newly planted areas reported decreased feelings of depression, with the biggest impact occurring in low-income neighborhoods. Researchers at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine teamed up with members of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to transform and observe 541 randomly selected vacant lots in Philadelphia. Eugenia South, assistant professor and co-author of the study , said Philadelphia’s littered lots were an ideal environment to set-up their groundwork. “There’s probably 40,000 of them in the city” she told NPR , “but they’re concentrated in certain sections of the city, and those areas tend to be in poorer neighborhoods.” According to the study, lower socioeconomic conditions have already been proven to distress mental health states. Related: Virtual reality helps scientists plot the ideal urban green space The researchers separated the lots into three groups: a control group of lots where nothing was altered, a set of lots that was cleaned up of litter, and a group of lots where everything, including existing vegetation, was removed and replanted with new trees and grass. “We found a significant reduction in the amount of people who were feeling depressed ” South said. Her team used a psychological distress scale to ask people how they felt, including senses of hopelessness, restlessness and worthlessness, as well as measuring heart rates, a leading indicator of stress, of residents walking past the lots. Low-income neighborhoods showed as high as a 27.5 percent reduction in depression rates. South said, “In the areas that had been greened, I found that people had reduced heart rates when they walked past those spaces.” While previous research has cross-studied the beneficial effects of green spaces on mental health, experts, such as Professor Rachel Morello-Frosch from the University of California, Berkeley, are regarding this experiment as “innovative.” Morello-Frosch said that previous studies were observational in nature and failed to provide concrete statistical results as this study has offered. Morello-Frosch, who was not involved with the analysis, said, “To my knowledge, this is the first intervention to test — like you would in a drug trial — by randomly alleviating a treatment to see what you see.” Parallel research has identified indicators of crime-reduction and increased community interaction, showing that green spaces are a low-cost answer to improving many facets of a community’s well-being, now including mental health. +  JAMA Network Open Via NPR Before and After images via Eugenia South and Bernadette Hohl/JAMA Network Open

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Green foods could clean up the construction industry

July 23, 2018 by  
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We’ve all heard of eating our vegetables, but what about building with them? A new study by Lancaster University ‘s B-SMART program will examine the effects of incorporating root vegetables – yes, vegetables – into cement production for a stronger and more sustainable way of building. The project, funded by the European Union, has brought academic and industrial stakeholders together in order to identify “biomaterials derived from food waste as a green route for the design of ecofriendly, smart and high performance cementious composites.” The program has proved successful insofar as creating a much more durable concrete mixture, with far fewer CO2 emissions from the process – all by adding some nutritious beets and carrots. Professor Mohamed Saafi, lead researcher at Lancaster University, reveals the cement is “made by combining ordinary Portland cement with nano platelets extracted from waste root vegetables taken from the food industry… this significantly reduces both the energy consumption and CO2 emissions associated with cement manufacturing.” This news comes none too soon for developers in urban areas contending with new green regulations enforced by governments both nationally and internationally. If recent trends continue, concrete production – which accounts for approximately 8% of CO2 emissions worldwide – will double in the next 30 years. Related: UN Environment and Yale present a sustainable tiny home in NYC According to Saafi, when root vegetable nano-platelets, such as those found in beets and carrots, are introduced into concrete, “the composites are not only superior to current cement products in terms of mechanical and micro-structure properties but also use smaller amounts of cement.” The initial tests have attributed this to an increase in calcium silicate hydrate, the compound which reinforces the cement, thanks to the vegetable extracts. The new concrete mixture also boasts a longer-lasting, less corrosive body and denser micro-structure, also attributed to its green food invigoration. So next time you don’t feel like eating your vegetables, just remember – they could make you stronger, too. Via Phys.org Images via Shutterstock

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Eating seaweed could reduce cows’ methane production

July 5, 2018 by  
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Researchers at the University of California, Davis have found a surprising food source that could help reduce cows’ methane production: seaweed. A recent study from the university suggests bovines who eat an experimental mix of special food and a specific strain of seaweed produce less greenhouse gas than their peers. According to Pennsylvania State University , agriculture contributes up to seven percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. Each day, ruminal animals (like cows) belch up to 264 gallons of carbon dioxide and methane. As much as 20 percent of agricultural methane emissions comes from animal burps alone. Related: How seaweed eating super cows will save the world To reduce those emissions, UC Davis researchers experimented with new feed combinations for cows. The cows’ hay is mixed with up to one percent of a naturally occurring red algae , Asparagopsis armata. To encourage the cows to eat the new food, molasses is added as a natural sweetener and to mask the salty taste and smell. To measure effectiveness, researchers take the livestock to a special “breathalyzer” chamber three times daily, where cows’ breath is measured for gas content in exchange for a cookie. The cows who ate the seaweed-mixed feed saw a significant reduction in methane production . Across three two-week experiments, cows who ate the highest mix of algae saw their methane production drop by half. The research team called the findings a “dramatic reduction in methane emissions.” But did it change the dairy cows’ milk? Although the seaweed-eating cows produced slightly less milk, the feed didn’t change the milk’s taste. A blind taste-test conducted with 25 people discovered “no off-notes” in the dairy products . Any hints of saltiness or fish did not transfer over to the cows’ milk production. Before seaweed can become a major part of agricultural feed, the industry must overcome several hurdles. This includes changing the seaweed flavor to be palatable to cows and growing enough algae for agricultural purposes. In addition, growing feed must be economically viable for farmers. Using feed to reduce cow emissions is part of a bigger plan to cut greenhouse gases in California. State Senate Bill 1383 mandated that farms must reduce their methane production by 40 percent over the next 12 years. Via NPR

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