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Jun 26, 2017, 04:18 PM
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 on: Jun 22, 2017, 05:14 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
EPA Gives Notice to Dozens of Scientific Advisory Board Members, Plans to Offer Buyout to 1,200 Employees


Dozens of scientists on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Board of Scientific Counselors and board subcommittees have been informed that they will not be renewed for their roles advising the agency, the Washington Post reported.

The move, which would dismiss 38 of the 49 remaining subcommittee members, "effectively wipes out [the board] and leaves it free for a complete reappointment," board executive committee chair Deborah Swackhamer told the Post.

Advisory board members aren't the only ones facing the end of their time at EPA: the agency also announced Tuesday plans to buy out more than 1,200 employees this summer.

This signals a troubling attitude toward the EPA's scientific work, according to Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"By sacking dozens of scientific counselors, [EPA Administrator Scott] Pruitt is showing that he doesn't value scientific input and the benefits it offers the public," Kimmell said.

"The administrator has an important job to do—and this includes listening to the best independent science and to make decisions that protect our health, our safety and our environment. Instead, he's delaying important public protections, denying the facts of climate change, and now, dismissing expert researchers who could help EPA do its best work. It's appalling to see an administrator so directly attack the effectiveness of his own agency."


Zinke Targets New England Coral Canyons as Next National Monument to Open Up for Drilling


Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke, who recently recommended a reduction in the size of the 1.35 million acre Bears Ears National Monument to President Trump, is advocating for more drilling and mining on public lands and waters.

The former Montana Rep. told Reuters that the development of America's protected federal lands could help the country become a "dominant" global energy force.

"There is a social cost of not having jobs," he said. "Energy dominance gives us the ability to supply our allies with energy, as well as to leverage our aggressors, or in some cases our enemies, like Iran."

Zinke has been tasked by Trump to review 27 national monuments across the country as part the administration's plans to expand development of public land. Reuters notes that at least six of these sites hold oil, gas and coal.

Earlier this month, the interior secretary called for a scaling back of Bears Ears despite vocal opposition from Native American tribes and environmental advocates.

Zinke signaled to Reuters that he is likely to make a similar recommendation for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument—the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean.

The monument, which consists of 4,913 square miles of underwater canyons and mountains off the New England coast, was designated by President Obama last September to protect critical ecological resources and marine species, including deep-sea corals, whales, sea turtles and deep-sea fish.

After touring the Canyons monument at the New England Aquarium, Zinke told Reuters he believed "there are legitimate scientific endeavors and research that are recognized and important (around the site), but there are also recognized livelihoods, fishing jobs that are also important." Zinke added he wants to redirect revenue from offshore to fund repairs around America's national parks.

In April, Trump signed an executive order to aggressively expand drilling in protected waters off the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

This week, Zinke fielded questions from Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) over the subject of climate change. As reported by the Huffington Post, when Franken asked if Zinke knows how much warming government scientists are predicting by 2100 under a business-as-usual scenario, the secretary replied:

"I don't think the government scientists can predict with certainty. There isn't a model that exists today that can predict today's weather, given all the data."

Also during the hearing, Zinke answered questions over Trump's 2018 budget request that would slash the Department of the Interior's funding by 12 percent and would eliminate about 4,000 full-time positions.

The White House touts that its Interior Department budget will ensure that "taxpayers receive a fair return from the development of these public resources," however, as Oil Change International noted, "the idea that opening up more public lands and waters for fossil fuel production will result in a windfall for America is wrong. The only windfall from federal fossil fuel production is enjoyed by oil, gas and coal executives."

"The Federal government already hands fossil fuel companies more than $7 billion a year in corporate subsidies related to their production on federal lands and waters," the advocacy group pointed out in a blog post. "For onshore oil, gas and coal production, that includes a giveaway of more than $3.3 billion from below-market royalty rates, unpaid and foregone royalties, inadequate permitting fees, and below-market lease rental rates. And American taxpayers are cheated out of $2.2 billion each year in lost royalties from offshore drilling because of 'royalty relief,' which exempts roughly 20 percent of oil and gas production in the Outer Continental Shelf from paying royalties."


California Scientists: Safe Level of Roundup Is 100x Lower Than EPA Allowance

By Olga V. Naidenko, Ph.D.

In a landmark rule with global repercussions, California state scientists are preparing to issue the world's first health guideline for Monsanto's glyphosate herbicide based on its cancer risk. The state's proposed safe level is more than 100 times lower than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) legal allowance for the average-sized American.

Glyphosate is the key ingredient in Roundup, the most heavily applied weed killer in the history of chemical agriculture. Use of glyphosate has exploded in the last 15 years, as Monsanto has promoted genetically modified Roundup Ready seeds to grow crops that aren't harmed by the herbicide. In the U.S. alone, more than 200 million pounds of Roundup are sprayed each year, mostly on soybeans and corn.

In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer—part of the World Health Organization, with no regulatory authority—reviewed human cancer studies and determined that glyphosate is "probably carcinogenic" to people. Based on that finding, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) announced its intention to add glyphosate to the state's Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer.

By itself, that listing would be a big blow to Monsanto, because it would require cancer warning labels on containers of Roundup and on foods that have high residues of glyphosate. Monsanto is appealing the decision in state court, but in the meantime the OEHHA has moved forward in setting a so-called No Significant Risk Level of the amount of glyphosate people could safely consume each day.

Olga V. Naidenko is senior science advisor for children's environmental health at Environmental Working Group.

 on: Jun 22, 2017, 05:07 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
37 of the World's Biggest Banks Fueling Climate Change


A report released Wednesday by Rainforest Action Network, BankTrack, Sierra Club and Oil Change International, in partnership with 28 organizations around the world, revealed that the world's biggest banks are continuing to fuel climate change through the financing of extreme fossil fuels.

The report found that 2016 actually saw a steep fall in bank funding for extreme fossil fuels. However, despite this overall reduction, banks are still funding extreme fossil fuel projects at a rate that will push us beyond the 1.5 degrees climate change limit determined by the Paris climate agreement.

In 2014, the banks analyzed in the report funneled $92 billion to extreme fossil fuels. In 2015, that number rose to $111 billion. 2016 was the first full calendar year to be studied since the signing of the Paris climate agreement—and the $87 billion figure represents a 22 percent drop from the previous year. While the drop-off is a move in the right direction, it is vital that this become an accelerating trend and not a blip.

The findings showed that if we are to have any chance of halting catastrophic climate change and reaching the Paris goal of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees, there must be a complete phaseout of these dangerous energy sources and banks must implement policies against extreme fossil fuel funding.

"Right now, the biggest Wall Street funder of extreme fossil fuels is JPMorgan Chase," said Lindsey Allen, executive director of Rainforest Action Network. "In 2016 alone they poured $6.9 billion into the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet. On Wall Street they are number one in tar sands oil, Arctic oil, ultra-deepwater oil, coal power and LNG export.

"Even in this bellwether year when overall funding has declined, Chase is funneling more and more cash into extreme fossil fuels. For a company that issues statements in favor of the Paris climate accord, they are failing to meet their publicly stated ambitions."

The report, Banking on Climate Change, is the eighth edition of this fossil fuel finance report card that ranks bank policies and practices related to financing in the most carbon-intensive, financially risky and environmentally destructive sectors of the fossil fuel industry. Those sectors are: extreme oil (tar sands, Arctic, and ultra-deepwater oil), coal mining, coal power and liquefied natural gas (LNG) export.

"There is simply not enough time left for more excuse-making, more fiddling at the policy edges and more egregious bank investments in extreme infrastructure projects like pipelines that transport tar sands oil," said Yann Louvel, BankTrack's climate and energy campaign coordinator. "When we sit in meetings with bank staff, we hear of their revulsion to Trump's stance on climate change and of their support for clean investments, yet their actions of continued investments in extreme fossil fuels demonstrate that they actually side with the Trump approach.

"The climate and profit imperatives for banks can coincide when it comes to clean energy investing, but as they continue to prove with their shortsighted fossil fuel investments, they're at complete odds with the world's long-term climate targets."

The report also explored bank failures when it comes to protecting human rights. The most glaring example of this in 2016 was the financing for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the rampant violations of Indigenous rights associated with that project—which triggered an Indigenous-led defund and divest movement that targets banks that finance dirty energy projects.

"The movement standing up to fossil fuel projects wherever they are proposed has gotten so large that these investments are now not only problematic from a climate and human rights perspective, but they're also risky investments from an economic perspective too," said David Turnbull, campaigns director at Oil Change International. "Our research has shown that any new fossil fuel development runs counter to our climate goals. If banks want to truly be leaders in their field, they need to stop ignoring climate risk and ensure their investments pass the climate test."

In this past year alone, San Francisco, Seattle, WA, and Davis, CA, pulled their money out of Wells Fargo because of the bank's various misdeeds including the funding of DAPL. Caving into public pressure, multiple major banks have announced that they are pulling out of DAPL, which emphasizes the need for proactive bank policies that restrict financing to fossil fuels and the human rights abuses associated with their extraction and transport.

"As the Trump administration continues to make reckless decisions that threaten our climate, it is more important than ever that the public is informed about whether the financial institutions we trust with our money are making investments that will worsen this crisis," said Lena Moffitt, senior campaign director of the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign. "The people are watching where and what banks sink their funds into, and they will not back down until every last one commits to investing in a future that benefits their communities, their economies and their health."

 on: Jun 22, 2017, 05:04 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Solar and wind energy set to get cheaper

International Business Times
21 Jun 2017 at 09:35 ET   

President Donald Trump promised to bring coal back, but that won’t be so easy, a forecast that sees solar energy costs rapidly decreasing indicates.

The forecast, released last week by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, sees solar energy costs plunging 66 percent by 2040. By that year, a dollar is expected to buy 2.3 times as much solar energy as it currently does. Meanwhile, onshore wind costs will decrease rapidly and offshore even faster. Onshore wind power costs are expected to decrease by 47 percent while offshore wind costs are expected to plunge by 71 percent by 2040.

The decrease in the cost of solar and wind power will undercut the majority of existing fossil power stations by 2030, the forecast said.

“This year’s report suggests that the greening of the world’s electricity system is unstoppable, thanks to rapidly falling costs for solar and wind power, and a growing role for batteries, including those in electric vehicles, in balancing supply and demand,” Seb Henbest, lead author of the 2017 forecast, said in a statement.

Solar and wind are expected to dominate the future of electricity. The forecast predicts $7.4 trillion will be invested in new renewable energy plants by 2040. That number accounts for nearly three-quarters of the $10.2 trillion the world will invest in new power generating technology.

Renewable energy also is expected to get a boost from electric cars and homeowners’ solar roofs. By 2040, solar cells are expected to account for as much as 5 percent of electricity in the U.S., and even more in other countries.

Renewable Energy vs. Coal

In the U.K., renewable energy broke a record this month when the National Grid announced Great Britain’s nuclear, wind and solar-generated power outperformed coal and gas combined. Solar energy is already as cheap as coal in other countries, including the U.S., Germany, Australia, Spain and Italy. Solar power is expected to be cheaper than coal in China, India, Mexico, the U.K. and Brazil by 2021, the forecast predicts.

Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to bring back coal mining jobs. In March, he signed an executive order to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, and this month he announced he was withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, which he claimed was unfair to Americans.

However, the forecast doesn’t paint a positive picture for coal workers.

“In the U.S., the Trump administration has voiced support for the coal sector,” the forecast said. “However, [the New Energy Outlook] 2017 indicates that the economic realities over the next two decades will not favor U.S. coal-fired power, which is forecast to see a 51 percent reduction in generation by 2040. In its place, gas-fired electricity will rise 22 percent, and renewables 169 percent.”

The forecast comes after the U.S. Energy Information Administration announced the nation broke an energy record. Government data show 10 percent of all electricity generated in the country in March came from wind and solar power.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said the fastest-growing occupations in America are wind turbine service technician jobs. U.S. wind power added jobs over nine times faster than the overall economy while data show the coal industry jobs have been declining for decades. 

 on: Jun 22, 2017, 05:01 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Cock-of-the-rock rules the roost in Peru's Manu cloud forest

We had come to see one of the greatest bird spectacles in the world: the courtship display of the Andean cock-of-the-rock

Stephen Moss

Our guide unlocked the wooden door. “Here” he announced to his still sleepy audience “are the keys to paradise.” José Antonio has probably used this line before, but none of us was complaining. For as dawn broke over the Manu cloud forest, in the heart of Peru, we were assembling on a wooden platform perched on the edge of the mountainside. We had come to see one of the greatest bird spectacles in the world: the courtship display of the Andean cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruvianus).

Cocks-of-the-rock (note the pedantic plural) are very striking birds indeed. About the size of a collared dove, though much plumper, they sport a prominent crest, which they use to intimidate their fellow males, and attract females, in the avian equivalent of the red deer rut.

But their most obvious feature is their incredible colour: luminous orange on the head and body, with black wings and a pearl-grey back, making them look like a tricolored rugby ball.

I was in Peru with the Crees Foundation, which carries out scientific research and runs wildlife tours in Manu. Having driven across the Andes from Cuzco just the day before, this was our first experience of this incredible place.

We were just in time: even as our eyes became accustomed to the darkness we could hear a series of harsh squeals and grunts echoing from the foliage. Moments later, the first cock (these were all male birds) melted out of the gloom, as if someone had switched on a very bright light.

Within seconds, a second and a third appeared; then more, until by the time the display was over, some twenty minutes later, at least half-a-dozen birds were snorting, squeaking, and showing off their wares to the females, somewhere out of sight.

Unseen they may be, but the females are far from bit-players in this extraordinary event. For as usually happens in nature, they will do the choosing, picking out the lucky male as their partner in this winner-takes-all contest. For now, though, the males were alone: sidling up and down the branches like tiny orange monkeys, emitting those strange, gurgling calls.

As the light improved, I got a better view of a splendid male perched against a dark backdrop of leaves, making jerky, almost mechanical movements. The small, beady eye was odd enough for a bird that lives in this sylvan darkness, but even more peculiar was the tiny bill: so wrapped in feathers it appeared virtually non-existent.

Cocks-of-the-rock (there are two species, the other living further north) are members of a diverse Neotropical family known as the cotingas. The name means “bright forest bird” in the now extinct Tupi language of neighbouring Brazil, and they certainly got that right. José Antonio told us that the cock-of-the-rock is Peru’s national bird; not just thanks to that amazing display, but also because its deep orange-red plumage matches the nation’s flag.

Just before light finally filled the forest, we watched two males having a standoff: flicking their wings, and turning up the volume and intensity of their calls. Then, in unison, they paused and turned, as if admiring each other’s performance.

With the morning sunlight filtering down through the canopy, the show was over. And, as with all great theatrical events, we were left wanting just a little bit more.

 on: Jun 22, 2017, 04:59 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Ten more elephants poisoned by poachers in Zimbabwe

The elephants were killed in the Hwange national park by what has become a common means of poaching
Early victim: one of the more than 100 elephants poisoned in Hwange National Park in September 2013.

Adam Cruise

Ten elephants, including a mother and her young calf, have been found poisoned in and around Zimbabwe’s premier game reserve, Hwange national park. Six of the animals died in the south of the park last week; some had their tusks hacked off. The others were found outside the northern sector of the park in state forestry land.

Park rangers responded quickly. A bucket of poison was found near the gruesome scene in the north and three arrests were made over the weekend. One of those arrested was found in possession of ivory.

The first known case of elephant poisoning in Zimbabwe was a single massacre of over 100 elephants in Hwange national park in 2013. Since then it has become a common means of poaching – not only in Hwange but throughout the country’s protected areas, including the Zambezi valley and Gonarezhou national park.

It’s not just elephants that are dying. Predators and scavengers such lions, hyenas, jackals and vultures endure a slow and agonising death after eating poisoned flesh, while other animals such as antelope and zebra have been killed by drinking from contaminated buckets, waterholes and salt licks.

The poachers use a dilute sodium cyanide solution and, in some cases, paraquat, a powerful agricultural herbicide that is extremely toxic to humans as well as other animals. Roxy Danckwerts, founder of Zimbabwe Elephant Nursery, ended up with kidney and lung failure last year after handling two elephant calves that had been poisoned with paraquat in Hwange. She still has impaired breathing. The two calves, nicknamed Phoenix and Lucy, eventually died.

Both cyanide and paraquat are readily available in Zimbabwe. Paraquat, although banned in the EU, is used by farmers in Zimbabwe to kill weeds and grasses, while the cyanide-based solution is common with Zimbabwe’s hundreds of thousands of informal miners. Poachers like such poisons because they enable them to kill large mammals silently, without the rifle shots that would alert rangers to their whereabouts.

The Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority has responded to the problem with force. Trevor Lane, co-founder of the Bhejane Trust, a non-profit organisation that monitors poaching activities in the northern sector of Hwange, says rangers have been given a clear shoot-to-kill policy from the government for any poachers they find within a national park. “Poachers lucky to be captured alive,” he adds, “are immediately given a minimum jail sentence of nine years if they are found with ivory or poison.”

The government had hoped that this approach would deter poachers but the value of ivory and the desperation of many rural Zimbabweans seem to outweigh the risks. Lane told Independent Online that he expects even more elephant poisonings “because people are so poor in this bad economic situation”. A poacher would be able sell a single tusk for around £250, a small fortune for any farmer.

Yet it’s not just impoverished villagers that are involved in the poisonings. The global lucrativeness of the illegal ivory trade is well documented, and Zimbabwe is no different. Mining directors, top police officers and even disgruntled rangers have all been implicated in elephant poisoning.

Most of the poisoned elephant carcasses in Hwange were discovered by pilots of light aircraft conducting periodic game counts. Colin Gillies, vice-chair of the Matabeleland branch of Wildlife & Environment Zimbabwe, an organisation that conducts annual elephant counts in Hwange, says the remote south and north-eastern areas are notoriously difficult for rangers to patrol effectively. “The few crude vehicle tracks there,” he says, “are difficult to negotiate at the best of times but they become completely inaccessible during the wet season.”

This piece is part of a year-long series on elephant conservation – email us at elephant.conservation@theguardian.com

 on: Jun 22, 2017, 04:57 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Cameras On Humpback Whales Show Marine Mammal Behavior In Antarctica

By Elana Glowatz

What would it be like to hop on a humpback whale for a piggyback ride? Researchers got the next best thing when they attached cameras to the ocean mammals’ backs in Antarctica.

The cameras stick on with suction cups that don’t hurt the whales and stay for a day or two, National Geographic says. They track the creatures and capture “a whale's-eye view of a changing undersea universe, helping reshape our knowledge of whale life in the Southern Ocean.” And they do that without inserting humans into their underwater world.

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCoCaCL-uhc

The Southern Ocean is the water that covers the bottom of the world, the extreme south of Earth’s oceans. This whale research is taking place on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula — the tentacle of the continent’s land that points toward the tip of South America.

Video footage (below) has taught the experts more about whales, including that they “feed in water far deeper than expected, and they may use their blow holes to create openings in the ice to breathe.” The cameras also offer views of social interactions, like play.

Humpback whales are enormous, up to 60 feet long and between 50,000 and 80,000 pounds, so there’s a lot of feeding footage to be had. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the gray and white mammals can eat up to 3,000 pounds of crustaceans, plankton and small fish every day. The whales can live about 50 years.

“It’s really beautiful when they are swimming under the sea ice,” scientist Ari Friedlaender, an ecologist with Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute, told National Geographic. “They’re so fluid and moving around in three dimensions and just cruising. But to be honest, we don’t know what everything we’re watching means yet.”

Humpback whales have been in the news lately for a more tragic reason: They have been washing up dead on the East Coast of the United States and experts are not sure why. More than two dozen mysteriously died last year and there have been 15 additional dead humpback whale cases since the beginning of this year, according to Popular Science. NOAA is investigating, using autopsies to find out what is going wrong. “So far, 10 of the 20 dead whales that have been necropsied clearly showed signs of being hit by boat propellers. That stands out because normally, NOAA only gets an average of 1.4 reports of boats hitting whales per year.”

In other cases of unusual marine animal deaths, toxic algae and infections have also been the culprit, though it is still unclear if those factored into the recent whale deaths.

 on: Jun 22, 2017, 04:53 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Most Ocean Pollution Comes From Asian Rivers, Study Says

By Juliana Rose Pignataro

Not all nations pollute equally — and some of them are responsible for far more of the world’s contamination than others. According to a study released Wednesday, most of the plastic currently in the ocean came from Asian rivers.

Of the world’s 40,760 ocean-bound rivers, a mere 20 are responsible for two-thirds of the ocean’s pollution, according to the study by The Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch foundation that develops technology to decontaminate waterways. Most of those rivers are located in Asia. In the foundation’s study published Wednesday, they found that overwhelming majority of pollution in the ocean came from the Yangtze River in China.

“Most of this river plastic is coming from Asia, which emphasizes the need to focus on monitoring and mitigation efforts in Asian countries with rapid economic development and poor waste management,” the study said.

Other main culprits included the Ganges River in India, the Xi, Dong and Zhujiang River in China and the Brantas, Solu, Serayu and Progo Rivers in Indonesia. The study’s researchers cautioned that more data would be needed to verify their conclusion.

“It’s crucial that governments and other organizations speed up their efforts to mitigate the sources of the problem we aim to resolve,” founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup Boyan Slat said in a Wednesday press release. “The results of this latest study can assist with those efforts.”

Plastic in the world’s oceans is no small matter: More than eight million tons of it are dumped into the water every year, according to nonprofit network Plastic Oceans. The garbage causes the death of more than 100,000 marine animals and one million seabirds ever year, the United Nations reported. And according to a World Economic Forum report published on the subject, if the world’s plastic consumption continues on its current trend, plastic will outweigh fish in the ocean by the year 2050.

The results of such exorbitant plastic consumption are becoming more and more visible: In March, a Cuvier whale was found beached off the coast of Norway after having starved as a result of the 30 plastic bags and other items wedged inside its stomach. The whale had mistaken the detritus for food and was unable to digest it, preventing it from eating anything else.

“It wasn’t like it was in just part of the stomach,” Dr. Terje Lislevand, a zoologist at the University of Bergen in Noway who studied the whale said at the time. “It filled up the whole space. I think the whale has been in pain.”

And pollutants are reaching ever-deeper parts of the ocean as well. Scientists announced in February they had located manmade pollution in the furthest reaches of the earth, identifying “extraordinary” amounts of chemicals more than 36,000 feet deep.

“We still think of the deep ocean as being this remote and pristine realm, safe from human impact, but our research shows that, sadly, this could not be further from the truth,” said Alan Jamieson, one of the researchers responsible for the findings. “The fact that we found such extraordinary levels of these pollutants really brings home the long-term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet.”

 on: Jun 22, 2017, 04:51 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Antarctic pollution five times worse than previously thought

International Business Times
20 Jun 2017 at 17:10 ET   

Plastic pollution in the Antarctic is much worse than previously believed — five times worse, to be exact. According to a study by scientists at the University of Hull and the British Antarctic Survey, levels of microplastics in the region’s waters were much greater than formerly estimated.

Microplastics derive from items like toothpaste, shampoo, cosmetics and clothing, or breakdown from larger pieces of plastic debris. And while they usually enter the ocean by way of wastewater, more than half of the research stations in the relatively untouched Antarctic don’t have any such wastewater treatment plants, meaning the plastic is making its way through the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, previously thought to have been almost impossible to pass through.

“Antarctica is thought to be a highly isolated, pristine wilderness,” the researchers said in a press release Monday. “The ecosystem is very fragile with whales, seals and penguins consuming krill and other zooplankton as a major component of their diet. Our research highlights the urgent need for a coordinated effort to monitor and assess the levels of microplastics around the Antarctic continent and the Southern Ocean."

Up to 51 trillion microplastic particles exist throughout the world’s oceans, an amount equal to 500 times the number of stars in the galaxy, according to the United Nations.

“We have monitored the presence of large plastic items in Antarctica for over 30 years,” the researchers said. “While we know that bigger pieces of plastic can be ingested by seabirds or cause entanglements in seals, the effects of microplastics on marine animals in the Southern Ocean are as yet unknown. This paper represents an excellent first step towards recognizing the presence of microplastics in Antarctica and allows us to call for international effort in monitoring the situation whilst it is still in its earliest stages.”

This isn’t the first time scientists have been surprised by the sheer volume of pollution in some of the world’s most remote places. Scientists at the University of Aberdeen revealed in a February study that they had found manmade pollution in the deepest reaches of the ocean — more than 36,000 feet down.

In that case, the pollutants found were polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, a type of chemical used in paints, rubbers, plastic and other industrial applications. The toxic chemicals were banned in 1979 after researchers discovered their effect on humans and the environment, but PCBs continue to leach into the ocean to this day, making their way through the food chain and eventually sinking into the depths of the ocean.

“We still think of the deep ocean as being this remote and pristine realm, safe from human impact, but our research shows that, sadly, this could not be further from the truth,” Alan Jamieson, the leader of the study, said at the time. “The fact that we found such extraordinary levels of these pollutants really brings home the long-term, devastating impact that mankind is having on the planet.”

 on: Jun 22, 2017, 04:48 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Now Atlantic is found to have huge 'garbage patch'

Science Editor, Steve Connor
A huge expanse of floating plastic debris has been documented for the first time in the North Atlantic Ocean. The size of the affected area rivals the "great Pacific garbage patch" in the world's other great ocean basin, which generated an outcry over the effects of plastic waste on marine wildlife.

The new plastic waste, which was discovered in an area of the Atlantic to the east of Bermuda, consists mostly of fragments no bigger than a few millimetres wide. But their concentrations and the area of the sea that is covered have caused consternation among marine biologists studying the phenomenon.

Using fine-mesh nets towed from a research ship, the scientists collected more than 64,000 individual plastic pieces at 6,100 locations out at sea over the 22-year period of the survey. The highest concentrations were centred at approximately the same latitude as Atlanta, Georgia (32 degrees North) but extended about 500 miles north and south of this line.

Kara Lavender Law from the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, said the size of the Atlantic "garbage patch" was roughly equal to the one in the Pacific, where circulating currents of the North Pacific Gyre have trapped it over a wide area to the north of the equator.

"The Pacific has received more attention in terms of plastic accumulation but we know less about the Pacific so it's very difficult to compare the Atlantic patch in terms of size. We had a cruise this summer to try to find the eastern extent and in fact we failed to find it," Dr Lavender Law said.

"East of Bermuda we had no evidence of a decrease in concentration so we still haven't answered the question. All we can say is the highest concentrations between the two oceans are comparable. My guess is they are similar-sized problems," she said.

"For the first time we've been able to put north-south bounds on the region of plastic accumulation. We've presented the most extensive dataset on plastic marine debris on any ocean basin," she added. The nets have a mesh size of 0.3mm, so the survey has only collected fragments bigger than this size. "Most pieces are smaller than the eraser on the top of your pencil. These are fragments from larger objects but we cannot say which objects they are from or where they originated," Dr Lavender Law said.

Most of the plastic appears to be polyethylene or polypropylene, which are less dense than seawater and float near to the surface. However, other kinds of denser plastic debris may have sunk to the bottom of the ocean where it has disappeared from view.

The study, published in the journal Science, found that the concentration of plastic particles caught in the nets since the survey began in 1986 has remained remarkably constant – but Dr Lavender Law emphasised that this did not mean the problem was manageable. "It does seem constant but we have to be careful about the interpretation that it is not getting worse, because what we are measuring is plastic larger than a third of a millimetre in size floating at the surface," she said.

"One explanation is that the pieces are becoming small enough to pass straight through the net. The plastic may still be floating at the ocean surface – it's just that we are not collecting it once it's smaller than a particular size.

"Another explanation is that we've found evidence that biological growth on pieces of plastic actually makes them denser and it's possible that, over time, if there is enough biological growth they may become dense enough to sink from the surface, where we wouldn't collect it," she explained.

Small fragments of plastic could pose an even greater menace to marine life than the larger fragments that become entangled with animals such as albatrosses and turtles, she said. "We know that smaller pieces of plastic are eaten and it's unclear what happens to that plastic then. But clearly biological organisms were not designed to eat plastic," she said.

 on: Jun 22, 2017, 04:46 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Fish have evolved to survive toxic waste that would normally kill them

'Unfortunately, most species we care about preserving probably can’t adapt to these rapid changes'

Ian Johnston Science Correspondent

A species of fish has evolved remarkably quickly so it can live in rivers and seas contaminated with highly toxic pollutants that would normally kill them, scientists have discovered.

Atlantic killifish taken from four sites on the United States’ east coast were found to be up to 8,000 times more resistant to a complex mix of chemicals such as dioxins, heavy metals, hydrocarbons and other substances.

The researchers sequenced the genome of nearly 400 killifish and found they had managed to adapt to their new environment.

This was because they had a high degree of genetic difference between individuals, which is a distinct advantage when the environment changes dramatically.

So when the pollution became too much for some fish in the four sites, enough killifish were able to cope – because by chance they had genetic traits that enabled them to do so – to maintain a viable population.

However the researchers cautioned that most animals would not be able to evolve fast enough to cope with such sudden changes.

Professor Andrew Whitehead, of University of California, Davis, said: “Some people will see this as a positive and think, ‘Hey, species can evolve in response to what we’re doing to the environment’.

“Unfortunately, most species we care about preserving probably can’t adapt to these rapid changes because they don’t have the high levels of genetic variation that allow them to evolve quickly.”

The killifish were taken from New Bedford Harbour in Massachusetts, Newark Bay in New Jersey, off Bridgeport in Connecticut, and the Elizabeth River in Virginia which had been heavily polluted since the 1950s and 1960s, the researchers reported in the journal Science.

The fish’s genes were then compared to other killifish taken from unpolluted areas nearby, enabling the scientists to discover how they had evolved to cope.

Killifish are not a source of food for humans but are eaten by other marine species.

The researchers suggested there should be more research into the genes which protect against pollution, saying this might help explain why some humans and other animals are more affected by it than others.

“If we know the kinds of genes that can confer sensitivity in another vertebrate animal like us, perhaps we can understand how different humans, with their own mutations in these important genes, might react to these chemicals,” Professor Whitehead said.

George Gilchrist, programme director at the US National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology, which helped fund the study, said the research had found just one molecular pathway had enabled the killifish to tolerate normally lethal levels of pollutants.

“This pathway may play a similar role in many animals exposed to pollutants, with slightly different adaptations in response to different toxicants,” he said.

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