Pollution & Health
31 Dec 2012:
Network of Smartphone-Based
Sensors Track Air Pollution Levels
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have developed a network of smartphone-based air pollution monitors
that allow individuals to track
pollution levels in real time and feed a central database of air quality trends citywide throughout the day. The so-called CitySense devices are equipped with sensors that measure ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide, and a digital app that illustrates the color-coded results based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality ratings. During a four-week test, in which the phones were distributed to 30 volunteers, the system showed hotspots of elevated pollution that shifted over the course of the day. Ultimately, the developers hope to deploy hundreds of devices in order to generate a public database on air quality levels. “We want more data and better data, which we can provide to the public,” said William Griswold, a computer science professor at UC San Diego. “We are making the invisible visible.”
Interview: What’s Damaging U.S.
Salt Marshes and Why It Matters
For centuries, salt marshes along the U.S. coast have been disappearing, with some experts estimating that 70 percent have been lost to development, rising seas,
and other threats. One factor scientists always thought marshes could withstand was nutrient enrichment, such as the flow of nitrogen and phosphorus from fertilizers and septic systems. But a nine-year study led by Marine Biological Laboratory scientist Linda Deegan shows that an over abundance of nutrients may be contributing to the demise of these salt marshes. In a Yale Environment 360
interview, Deegan describes the study's implications and the vital services that would be lost if marshes disappear, from nourishing marine species to providing a barrier for coastal communities during storms such as Hurricane Sandy. Read the interview
Interview: Creating Clouds in a Lab
To Better Forecast Climate Change
At the CERN research laboratory in Switzerland, scientists are conducting experiments to help solve a key riddle: the role of clouds in future
climate change. Leading that study is British physicist Jasper Kirkby, who oversees complex experiments in a large steel chamber that are designed to help resolve one of the biggest uncertainties of climate change — how clouds form and what role they play in regulating Earth’s temperature. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Kirkby talks about the role that cosmic rays — charged particles that hit the Earth from outer space — may play in cloud formation, the pitfalls of geoengineering the planet by trying to mimic the formation of clouds, and why his experiments could help clear up uncertainties about climate change. “We’ve got to reduce that uncertainty if we’re to really sharpen our understanding for future climate projections,” says Kirkby. Read the interview
06 Dec 2012:
Google Images Document
Devastation of 2011 Tsunami in Japan
As part of an ongoing project to digitally archive the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami in northeastern Japan, Google has published several new panoramic images
that provide a sobering glimpse of the widespread
devastation in communities across the region. The images, taken with the company’s Street View technology in four cities in the Tōhoku region, allows users to take a virtual tour of seriously damaged buildings before they are demolished. One panoramic view of a public housing project illustrates the height of the tsunami wave, which ruined everything up to the fourth floor of the building. Another image, of the condemned Ukedo Elementary School, shows the collapsed auditorium floor beneath the banner of a graduation ceremony that was never held. The images were added to Google’s “Memories for the Future
” website, which is chronicling the affected areas from before and after the tsunami.
Interview: Designing Green Cities
To Meet 21st Century Challenges
Landscape architect Martha Schwartz is a passionate believer in the role that landscape can play in urban sustainability. Great landscape design, she says, can
Martha Schwartz Partners
moderate extreme heat, recycle water, reduce energy use, lower carbon emissions, and attract people to urban areas. Following these principles, her London-based firm, Martha Schwartz Partners
, has designed such projects as Dublin’s Grand Canal Square; Exchange Square, in Manchester, England; and Abu Dhabi’s Corniche beachfront area. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Schwartz, a professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, talks about the importance of incorporating cultural values in urban design, explains why the design of streets and parking lots is as important as the design of parks, and discusses why the U.S. lags behind many other nations in the greening of its cities. Read the interview
04 Dec 2012:
Air Quality Improvements
Continue to Yield Health Benefits
While the rate of improvement of U.S. air quality has slowed during the last decade, even those small improvements have had a beneficial effect on life expectancy, according to new research
. In a study of 545 counties across the U.S., researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that a slight decrease of fine particulate matter of 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter — known as PM2.5 — from 2000 to 2007 was associated with an average increase in life expectancy of 0.35 years. During that period, researchers say, concentrations of PM2.5 decreased by 10 micrograms per cubic meter. While that improvement in air quality was far less significant than the pollution reductions observed between 1980 and 2000, the new findings suggest that continued improvements have additional health benefits. “It appears that further reductions in air pollution levels would continue to benefit public health,” said Harvard researcher Andrew Correia, lead author of the study published in Epidemiology
03 Dec 2012:
An Advocate's Novel Campaign
To Call Attention to Rhino Slaughter
A South African artist has launched an unorthodox campaign to call attention to the mounting slaughter of rhinoceroses — by sending toenail clippings to the
Chinese embassy. Frustrated that petitions and other protests have done little to curb the poaching of rhinos for their horns, Mark Wilby decided to target the illegal markt in Asia, where the horns are believed to have healing properties. Rhino horns are composed largely of keratin, a protein also found in human nails and hair. Wilby, who is encouraging others to also send nails to the embassy address in Pretoria, concedes the protest is “disrespectful,” but says he wants to put pressure on the Chinese government in hopes that it can help stop the killing of Africa’s rhinos. According to reports, nearly 600 rhinos have been killed illegally
so far this year in South Africa alone. “I’m sending this to the Chinese Embassy in South Africa not because I’m blaming the Chinese government or the Chinese people,” he said in a video posted on YouTube
. “I just don’t know who else to appeal to.”
28 Nov 2012:
Scientists Develop Standardized
Analysis of City Pollution Emissions
A team of Israeli researchers has developed a method to track pollution over the world’s mega-cities
, a satellite-based process they say could help hold nations accountable for their pollution and promote cleaner
Smog over Beijing
industrial practices. Using data collected by three NASA satellite systems, the researchers from Tel Aviv University (TAU) collected pollution trends for 189 cities with populations exceeding 2 million. According to Pinhas Alpert, head of TAU’s Porter School of Environmental Study, the research represents the first standardized global analysis of the smog levels in the atmosphere over the world’s largest cities. Based on the data, collected from 2002 to 2010, cities in Northeast China, India, the Middle East, and Central Africa saw the steepest rise in aerosol concentrations, with an average increase of 34 percent. The greatest improvements occurred in Houston, with a 31 percent decrease in aerosol concentrations; Curitiba, Brazil, a 26 percent decrease; and Stockholm, a 23 percent decrease.
19 Nov 2012:
Breeding Birds in UK
Have Declined 20 Percent Since 1960s
The population of breeding birds in the UK has plummeted by 21 percent since 1966
, losing more than 44 million birds in less than a half-century, according to the newly released State of the UK’s Birds 2012
report. According to experts, the number of house sparrows has
State of the UK's Birds 2012
The yellow wagtail
dropped from 30 million in 1966, when the first reliable bird-monitoring surveys were conducted, to about 10 million today — a loss of about 50 sparrows every hour. Once-abundant populations of the willow tit have all but disappeared in most regions of the UK, while numbers of the lesser spotted woodpecker and Arctic skua are now too few to number. Populations of farmland bird species are now half of what they were in 1970, according to the report, which draws on information from numerous bird surveys and databases. Land use changes and coastal water management have likely been key factors in these declines, as some species have had increasing difficulty finding suitable places to nest or forage, experts say.
14 Nov 2012:
Algal Biofuel Blend
Reaches Market at California Gas Stations
A U.S. company this week began pumping a mix of an algae-based biofuel and gasoline at gas stations in California
, a pilot project the company hopes will be a first step in providing a large-scale alternative to fossil fuels.
The fuel, known as Biodiesel B20, contains 80 percent petroleum and 20 percent algae grown by San Francisco-based Solazyme. The fuel is produced in a fermentation process at Solazyme’s Illinois plant that combines sugar with an organism company officials will not identify. According to the company, the new fuel blend produces 30 percent fewer particulates, 20 percent less carbon monoxide, and 10 percent fewer hydrocarbons than other biodiesel fuels. So far, the fuel is being sold for diesel vehicles at four gas stations in the Bay Area for $4.25 per gallon, which is also the average price right now for diesel fuel in California. But Propel Fuels, which is providing the infrastructure for the fuel delivery, hopes to make the fuel available at hundreds of California stations, said Matt Horton, Propel’s CEO.
31 Oct 2012:
U.S. Honeybees Have Developed
Resistance to Antibiotic, Study Says
Honeybees in the U.S. have developed widespread resistance to the antibiotic tetracycline
, likely as a result of decades of exposure to preventive antibiotics in domesticated hives, a new study has found. In tests conducted on bees in several countries, scientists from Yale University say they identified eight tetracycline resistance genes in U.S. honeybees that were largely absent in bees found in places where the antibiotics are banned. In the U.S., the use of oxytetracycline — a compound similar to tetracycline — has been common since the 1950s to help prevent outbreaks of “foulbrood,” a bacterial disease that can devastate honeybee hives. “There’s a pattern here, where the U.S. has these genes and the other [countries] don’t,” said Nancy Moran, a lead author of the study published in the journal mBio
. The authors warn that the treatment meant to prevent disease and strengthen honeybee hives in the U.S. may have actually weakened the bees’ ability to fight off other pathogens.
In New York, The Rising Threat Of
Flooding Was Predicted for Years
While climate experts hesitate to say Hurricane Sandy was caused by climate change, scientists for years have predicted that such devastating events would become increasingly common as sea levels rise and ocean
Rising Currents: A 2010 exhibit showed visions of New York adapting to climate change.
temperatures become warmer. For more than a decade, reports have warned that climate change will likely trigger more intense hurricanes and more frequent and severe flooding in low-lying areas
, such as occurred in New York and New Jersey. And with sea levels projected to rise by as much as six inches per decade by mid-century and as much as several feet by 2100,
experts say New York City’s flood zone will continue to expand
. In Sandy's wake, New York officials are starting to discuss projects that might withstand such surges
, including building a levee system or barriers.
24 Oct 2012:
Plastic Waste Increasing
On Remote Arctic Seabed, Cameras Reveal
Deep-sea cameras deployed to monitor biodiversity on the Arctic seabed have documented a significant rise in the amount of plastic waste and other litter
on the remote sea floors of the Far North, according to a new study. While looking at many thousands of seabed photos taken in 2011 between Greenland and the Norwegian island of Spitzbergen, deep-sea expert Melanie Bergmann of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research was struck by the number showing plastic waste. In a detailed analysis of the photographs — which are taken every 30 seconds by a deep-sea observatory reaching depths of 2,500 meters — Bergmann and her colleagues found that while plastic waste was seen in only one percent of photographs taken in 2002, that number had jumped to 2 percent in 2011. Two percent may not seem like a high occurrence, Bergmann said, but the quantities observed in this remote Arctic region were greater than recorded in a deep-sea canyon near Lisbon, Portugal. According to the study, published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin
, about 70 percent of the plastic litter had come in contact with deep-sea organisms.
23 Oct 2012:
French Panel Rejects Study
That Linked GM Corn to Cancer in Rats
An independent state panel in France has rejected the findings
of a recent controversial study that linked genetically modified corn to cancer in rats, but the panel did recommend long-term research into the risks of genetically engineered food. In the report, requested by the French government, the Higher Biotechnologies Council (HCB) found “no causal relationship” between an increase in tumors in rodents and the consumption of GM corn or the widely used herbicide, Roundup, both of which are produced by the biotech giant Monsanto. The study, published in September
in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology
, had claimed that the consumption of Roundup-tolerant GM corn increased the incidence of cancer in rats. On the contrary, the HCB researchers said
, “the data are insufficient to establish scientifically a causal link... or to support the conclusions or pathways suggested by the authors.” To address public concerns, however, the panel did recommend that a “long-term, independent, transparent study, with adversarial views, be undertaken under government auspices.”
18 Oct 2012:
Increased Nutrient Levels
May Drive Collapse of Salt Marsh, Study Says
Increasing levels of nutrients seeping from septic systems and lawn fertilizers may be driving the steady decline of salt marshes
that has occurred along the U.S. East coast in recent decades, a new study has found.
David S. Johnson/MBL
While scientists had long believed that salt marshes have an unlimited capacity for removing nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, a long-term experiment by researchers at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole, Mass. found that nutrient enrichment can drive salt-marsh loss. Over nine years, the researchers added amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus to tidal waters flushing through salt marsh in an undeveloped coastal area consistent with the nutrient levels present in developed areas such as Cape Cod, Mass. and Long Island, N.Y. Within a few years, they observed wide cracks in the grassy banks of tidal creeks; eventually, the researchers say, the banks would collapse altogether into the creek. “The long-term effect is conversion of a vegetated marsh into a mudflat, which is a much less productive ecosystem,” said Linda Deegan, an MBL scientist and an author of the study published in Nature
17 Oct 2012:
Chinese Report Acknowledges
Nuclear Safety Concerns at Reactors
In a new report, the Chinese government has laid out a plan to upgrade the security at its nuclear power reactors
over the next decade, suggesting that the country may be ready to resume a planned expansion of
Feng Li/Getty Images
Inspector at a Zhejiang construction site
its nuclear sector halted in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. The Ministry of Environmental Protection report indicates that roughly 80 billion yuan ($12.75 billion) will be required by 2015 to upgrade radioactive-contamination controls at the nation’s plants to international standards. Making the challenge more complicated, the report said, is the variety of reactors in place across China and “multiple standards of safety.” “The current [nuclear] safety situation isn’t optimistic,” the report said. The report recommended the phasing out of older nuclear reactors and an increased emphasis on research and development into nuclear safety and radioactive waste handling. While not specifying any timeline, the report suggested the nation is getting closer to restarting the approval process for new plants, which was suspended in 2011 following the nuclear crisis in Japan.
17 Oct 2012:
Elevated Levels of CO2
May Impair Cognitive Abilities, Study Says
Elevated levels of carbon dioxide in indoor settings can have a detrimental effect on decision-making abilities and work performance
, according to a new study. In a series of tests, U.S. researchers exposed 22 healthy adults to different levels of carbon dioxide concentrations (600 parts-per-million, 1,000 ppm, and 2,500 ppm) in an office-like room. Under each condition, the participants were asked to take a computer-based test that measured their decision-making abilities. According to the findings, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives
, the participants’ performance declined notably on six of nine tests when CO2 levels were increased to 1,000 ppm; performance declined substantially on seven of the tests when levels were bumped to 2,500 ppm. Earlier research has associated increased student absences and poorer performance with higher CO2 levels, said William Fisk, a researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and co-author of the study. “But we never thought CO2 was actually responsible,” he said. “We assumed it was a proxy for other [pollutants].”
11 Oct 2012:
Group Calls for Swift Growth
Of Carbon Capture-and-Storage Facilities
An industrial group says that to avoid “dangerous climate change” an additional 55 facilities that capture carbon from power plants and store it underground must be built by 2020
. The group, the Global CCS Institute, said that only one new carbon-capture-and-storage (CCS) plant was built in the past year, bringing the current number to 75. The institute acknowledged that the goal of building 130 CCS plants by 2020 was unlikely, but argued that the technology is a proven method of reducing carbon dioxide emissions
and vital to future strategies to slow global warming. The institute said that just eight of the 75 plants now in operation have achieved a greater reduction in CO2 emissions that all other greenhouse gas reduction efforts instituted in the UK and Australia. CCS Institute President Brad Page said that governments should treat CCS technology as they do other low-carbon initiatives, like solar and wind power, which often receive subsidies and other government aid designed to encourage the growth of renewable energy.
10 Oct 2012:
U.S. Supreme Court Refuses
Chevron Challenge of Ecuador Damages
The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear Chevron Corp.’s challenge
of an $18.2 billion judgment issued by an Ecuadorian court over large-scale damages caused by oil drilling in the Amazon. The Supreme Court decision is the latest development in a long legal battle that led to a ruling last year by an Ecuadorean court that Chevron had to pay the damages for massive oil dumping by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001. Chevron was challenging a ruling by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that would have effectively opened the way for worldwide enforcement of the judgment against Chevron. An Ecuadorean court found that an oil consortium run by Texaco dumped billions of gallons of oil and toxic sludge in the Amazon rainforest
from 1964 through 1992, badly polluting water supplies and causing health problems among some of the 30,000 plaintiffs in the Lago Ario region. Chevron vowed to continue to fight the Ecuadorean court’s decision, which it called “fraudulent” and tainted by judicial misconduct. Chevron contends that the decision is not enforceable under New York law.
04 Oct 2012:
Blue and Green Honey
Is Linked to an M&M’S Factory in France
Beekeepers in northeastern France say they have produced batches of unusually colored honey in recent months as a result of bees carrying unknown substances from a nearby plant processing waste from an M&M’S candy factory. Since August, beekeepers in the region of Alsace say they have noticed bees returning to their apiaries with colorful substances
that have altered the color of their honey, turning it blue and green. After conducting some research, they discovered that a nearby biogas plant has been processing waste from a Mars candy factory that produces colorful M&M’S. The beekeepers, who are already dealing with declining bee populations, are not amused by the batches of colorful honey. “For me, it’s not honey,” Alain Frieh, president of the apiculturists’ union, told Reuters. “It’s not sellable.” While Mars did not respond with a comment, a co-manager for the biogas plant said the company has cleaned its containers and will begin storing incoming waste in a covered facility.
04 Oct 2012:
New Cleanup Method Offers
Major Solution to Oil Spills, Study Claims
Scientists have developed a superabsorbent material they say offers a cost-effective way to remove, recover and clean up large oil spills
. Writing in the journal Energy & Fuels
, Pennsylvania State University
researchers Xuepei Yuan and T. C. Mike Chung describe a polymer material that they say can absorb 40 times its own weight in oil, transforming spilled material into a solid, oil-containing gel that is strong enough to be collected and transported to oil refineries for reprocessing. While many of the methods typically used to clean up oil spills — including booms, skimmers, burning, and the use of dispersants — waste most of the spilled oil and leave behind significant levels of environmental pollution, the scientists say their so-called polyolefin oil-SAP technology offers a potentially “complete solution” to dealing with oil spills. They say the material does not absorb water, is buoyant, and is relatively inexpensive.
02 Oct 2012:
Great Barrier Reef Lost
Half of Coral Cover Since 1985, Study Says
The Great Barrier Reef has lost half of its coral cover in just 27 years, with most of that decline coming as a result of heavy storms, predation by crown-of-thorn starfish, and coral bleaching caused by warming ocean temperatures. In a comprehensive survey of 214 reefs, researchers at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) found that coral cover declined from 28 percent in 1985 to 13.8 percent this year
. Intense tropical storms, particularly in the central and southern parts of the reef, have caused about 48 percent of the coral loss, researchers say. An explosion in populations of starfish along the reef caused about 42 percent of the decline; about 10 percent was caused by major bleaching events. Reefs are typically able to regain their coral cover after such disturbances, said Hugh Sweatman, a lead author of the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. But recovery takes 10-20 years, he noted. The study found efforts to reduce starfish populations could help increase coral cover at a rate of 0.89 percent per year.
24 Sep 2012:
Air Pollution in Europe
Shortening Lives of Urban Dwellers
Air pollution in Europe is shortening lifespans by an average of eight months
and by as much as two years in the most polluted cities and regions, according to a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA). While the European Union has cut emissions of many harmful pollutants over the last decade, the report finds that nearly a third of urban dwellers are still exposed to harmful levels of airborne particulate matter
, tiny pollutants small enough to penetrate the respiratory system and cause serious health ailments. About 21 percent of city dwellers are exposed to particulate matter above EU health standards. And 17 percent were exposed to higher levels of ozone, which can cause respiratory problems. “In many countries, air pollutant concentrations are still above the legal and recommended limits that are set to protect the health of European citizens,” said Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA. According to the report, humans living in industrial regions of Eastern Europe face the highest exposure to harmful pollutants.
19 Sep 2012:
Fuel Consumption in New Cars
Can Be Halved by 2030, Report Says
With advanced technologies and innovative government policies, fuel consumption in new vehicles can be cut in half by 2030
, saving billions of dollars in fuel costs worldwide and significantly reducing CO2 emissions, a new report by the Paris-based International Energy Agency says. According to the report
, many of the technologies that could significantly improve fuel efficiency over the next two decades are already commercially available but are not widely used. For these technologies to penetrate markets globally, the report says, governments will have to introduce stronger policies, including tougher fuel economy standards and financial incentives. The report notes that strong fuel efficiency standards have been adopted in some major markets, including the U.S., the European Union, and China, but that most of the world’s emerging markets lag far behind. The report also recommends increased research, development, and demonstration of emerging technologies, including waste heat recovery devices.
17 Sep 2012:
Forest Mortality in U.S. Declines
As Beetles Run Out of Food, Report Says
Tree deaths caused by insect infestation and disease in the western U.S. declined significantly last year
, largely because mountain pine beetles have devoured so many
A mountain pine beetle
forests that they are running out of food, according to a report by the U.S. Forest Service
. Researchers reported that about 6.4 million acres of forest died nationally in 2011, compared with 9.2 million acres in 2010 and a peak mortality of 11.8 million acres in 2009. Scientists say about 60 percent of the mortality was caused by one pest, the mountain pine beetle, a native insect that has decimated lodgepole and ponderosa pine forests across western North America because warmer winters are not killing off beetle larvae. While the researchers say a critical factor in the decline has been a reduced number of available lodgepoles, they say ponderosa pine and high-elevation white bark pine remain at risk. The greatest forest mortality was reported in Colorado, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. “Native insects and diseases run in cycles, and right now we are grateful the trend is downward,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. He added, however, that forests still face significant threats, including from climate change and new invasive species.
05 Sep 2012:
Major Chinese City
Restricts the Number of New Cars
Government officials in Guangzhou, China’s third-largest city, have enacted measures to limit the number of new cars on city streets
, a policy some analysts say reflects a broader effort by Chinese cities to protect public health and well-being in the face of worsening highway congestion. In Guangzhou, a city of 15 million people and a center for auto manufacturing, officials last week introduced license plate auctions and lotteries, a strategy that is expected to cut the number of cars by half, according to The New York Times.
While the restrictions will have short-term economic impacts, government officials say they could also help reduce air and water pollution, cut long-term healthcare costs, and alleviate the city’s notorious traffic jams. “From the government’s point of view, we give up some growth, but to achieve better health for all citizens, it is definitely worth it,” said Chen Haotian, the vice director of Guangzhou’s top planning agency. Guangzhou’s efforts come as other major Chinese cities are requiring cleaner gasoline and diesel fuels, closing dirty factories, and removing older, more polluting cars from roads.
04 Sep 2012:
High Levels of DDT Found
In Breast Milk of Women in South Africa
A new study has found record levels of DDT in the breast milk of nursing women
living in South African villages where the toxic pesticide has been used for decades. In samples taken from women in three malaria-stricken villages where spraying occurs inside homes, researchers found that DDT levels in their breast milk were more than 100 times greater than the highest daily dose recommended by the World Health Organization. In one sample, DDT levels were more than 300 times greater than allowed for cow’s milk, according to the study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution
. “Based on the argument that ‘malaria is worse than DDT,’ people accept this spray treatment program,” said Henrik Kylin, a professor at Linköping University and one of the study’s authors. “The purpose of our project is to study the side effects, thereby creating a better basis for decisions.” Though officially banned by the UN in 2001, DDT is still used in Africa and elsewhere to eradicate malaria-carrying mosquitoes that kill nearly 900,000 people a year.
30 Aug 2012:
Better Use of Fertilizer, Water
Can Feed Growing Population, Study Says
A new study suggests that the the world can meet the surging demand for food in the coming decades without rampant deforestation if farmers make better use of fertilizer and water resources
. In an analysis of management practices and yield data for 17 major crops worldwide, researchers from McGill University in Montreal and the University of Minnesota estimated that yields for most crops can be increased 45 to 70 percent on lands already used for agriculture through more efficient fertilizer application and irrigation. Writing in the journal Nature
, the scientists found that the deployment of best-practice farming could boost global yields of corn, wheat, and rice by 64 percent, 71 percent, and 47 percent
, respectively. In some parts of the world, including the U.S., China, and Western Europe, the study found that far more fertilizer is used than necessary, with much of it ultimately washing into waterways. Through more efficient use of that fertilizer, nutrients could be made available for use in Eastern Europe and Western Africa without adversely affecting communities in the U.S. and China.
24 Aug 2012:
Drought Conditions Trigger
Smallest Gulf ‘Dead Zone’ in Years
U.S. scientists say the nation’s worst drought in five decades has had at least one positive effect: the smallest so-called “dead zone” seen in the Gulf of Mexico in years
. In a 1,200-mile research cruise conducted in the
Algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico
waters of the gulf this month, scientists from Texas A&M University found only 1,580 square miles of oxygen-depleted, or hypoxic, water in the gulf, compared with 3,400 square miles last August. The hypoxic zone is created when algal blooms, caused by large amounts of fertilizer and nutrients washing into the gulf, remove oxygen from the water and suffocate marine life. According to the researchers, hypoxia was found only in the waters near the Mississippi River delta, which accounts for nearly 90 percent of all freshwater runoff in the gulf; no hypoxia was observed off the Texas coast. “What has happened is that the drought has caused very little fresh-water runoff and nutrient load into the gulf, and that means a smaller region for marine life to be impacted,” said Steve DiMarco, an oceanographer at Texas A&M.
22 Aug 2012:
New Canadian Law Removes
Federal Oversight From Smaller Projects
Major revisions to Canada’s Environmental Assessment Act have stripped nearly 500 projects of federal oversight
in British Columbia alone, including major dam projects, gravel extraction operations, and the sinking of former warships as artificial reefs, according to a news report. The new screening assessments, the latest in a series of initiatives by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration seen as weakening environmental regulation
, give an increased role in environmental oversight and enforcement to provinces. Speaking to the Vancouver Sun
, a spokesperson for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency said that the “numerous small, routine projects… posed little or no risk to the environment.” But Canadian environmental advocates warn that a reduced federal role in monitoring these hundreds of projects will ultimately place the province’s environment, particularly fish habitat, at increased risk. “The cumulative impacts of all the projects that they will no longer review will be great and it will take a few years for Canadians to appreciate that,” said Otto Langer, a former official with the federal fisheries department.