31 Aug 2015:
Researchers Develop Artificial
Leaf That Efficiently Mimics Photosynthesis
Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have developed an artificial leaf that can produce hydrogen fuel through
Artificial leaf device
a process similar to photosynthesis, according to findings
published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science
. The system is the first complete, efficient, and safe solar-driven device for splitting water to create hydrogen fuels, say the researchers, who have been seeking a cost-effective method for producing energy using only sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide. The new system consists of two electrodes that produce oxygen and hydrogen gases, along with a specialized membrane that keeps the gases separate to prevent the possibility of an explosion. The artificial leaf converts 10 percent of the energy in sunlight into hydrogen fuel and can operate for more than 40 hours continuously, the study says.
In Northern Canada Peaks, Scientists
Are Tracking Impact of Vanishing Ice
Earlier this month, a team of Canadian scientists braved a cold-weather thunderstorm, snow, rain, and high winds to spend a week working on the last extensive icefield in the interior of the Northwest Territories. Accompanying them was Yale Environment 360
contributor Ed Struzik, who reports on the trip and the importance of the research team’s investigations. The group worked on the Brintnell/Bologna icefield, which has shrunk by more than a third over the last three decades and continues to melt at a rapid clip. The scientists hope to determine how the melting of these glaciers and the loss of snowpack in the surrounding mountains might affect the region’s ecology and rivers, including the huge Mackenzie River, Canada’s largest.
25 Aug 2015:
Endangered Chimp Population
Much Larger Than Estimated, Study Shows
A population of endangered eastern chimpanzees in Uganda is actually significantly larger than scientists had thought, new research
from the University of Southern California shows. Using DNA from fecal samples, the scientists estimated the size of the chimp population living in two reserves in western Uganda to be 250 to 320 chimps, divided among at least nine communities, whereas previous estimates had pegged the total at roughly 70. Because the forest they live in is not protected, however, the chimpanzees have been heavily impacted by forest fragmentation, and the fruit trees they rely on are rapidly being cut down, the researchers say. The eastern chimp population that lives in this region is important because it represents the growing status quo for this species, the researchers note — they no longer inhabit unbroken swaths of forest, but instead carve out an existence in shrinking forest patches.
Interview: A Scientist Who Probes
The Rich Inner Lives of Animals
Ecologist Carl Safina has made his name studying and writing about the world’s oceans and the creatures that inhabit them. Now, Safina
has turned his attention to the fascinating and controversial topic of the inner lives of animals, exploring, as he puts it, “the incredible shimmering world of nuance that many of these creatures experience in their lives with one another.” In an interview with Yale Environment 360
about his recently published book, Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel
, Safina explains why it’s vital to our own humanity to more deeply empathize with wild creatures and sharply criticizes some research on animal behavior, saying it has led to a flawed understanding of the natural world. “I bristle at the idea that an animal can 'pass a test' administered by human beings,” says Safina. “It’s irrelevant whether the animal corresponds to your concept of something.”
Read the interview.
12 Aug 2015:
Warmer Winters Are Leading to
More Wild Boars in Europe, Research Finds
As Europe experiences more mild winters — very likely an effect of climate change, researchers say — the continent's wild boar
A young wild boar
populations are growing exponentially, according to research
from the University of Veterinary Medicine - Vienna. The scientists identified the trend by comparing up to 150 years of data on annual boar population growth to temperature and precipitation records from 12 European countries. One factor behind the population surges is body-temperature regulation, the scientists say. In mild winters, wild boars need to use less energy to stay warm, leaving more energy for reproduction and piglet rearing. Another factor is bumper crops of the boars' food sources, primarily acorns and beechnuts, which have become increasingly common over the last few decades. Wild boars are more likely to survive harsh winters if they have been preceded by a good year for their food sources, the researchers note.
10 Aug 2015:
Major Algal Blooms Visible Off
Both Coasts of U.S., Satellite Images Show
Major algal blooms have appeared off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the U.S. this month, as shown in these NASA
. Algae and other forms of phytoplankton are microscopic, plant-like organisms that form the basis of the oceans' food webs. When conditions are right, phytoplankton can reproduce rapidly and bloom to scales that are visible from space. Some blooms are benign — such as the one off the East Coast — and serve as rich feeding grounds for fish and whales. Other blooms, however, can be harmful because they deplete ocean waters of oxygen and sometimes release toxic compounds that poison birds and fish. The West Coast algal bloom contains toxin-producing phytoplankton, and it may be linked to deaths of whales, sea birds, and forage fish, scientists say
06 Aug 2015:
Mimicking Butterfly Wings Can
Improve Efficiency of Solar Energy Systems
Solar-concentrating photovoltaic systems can produce nearly 50 percent more power by mimicking the V-shaped wing
Cabbage white butterfly
formation certain butterflies exhibit before take-off, say researchers at the University of Exeter. The cabbage white butterfly warms its muscles before flight by placing its wings in the shape of a "V" to maximize the concentration of solar energy onto its thorax. This behavior, known as reflectance basking, increases the butterfly's thorax temperature by roughly 13 degrees F compared to flat wings, the researchers found. When reflective panels are arranged around a concentrating photovoltaic system in the same way, this wing-like configuration increases the power-to-weight ratio of the solar energy system by 17-fold, making it vastly more efficient, the researchers explain in the journal Scientific Reports
. The team showed that replicating the single layer of highly reflective scale cells found in the butterfly wings could also improve power-to-weight ratios of solar concentrators.
27 Jul 2015:
President Obama Announces
Major New Limits on Interstate Ivory Trade
President Obama has announced strict new limits
aimed at stemming the global ivory trade which, when implemented,
FWS crushed illegal ivory trinkets in Times Square.
would nearly ban all ivory trade within the United States. The measures also include new restrictions on when ivory can be exported to other countries. “We’re proposing a new rule that bans the sale of virtually all ivory across state lines,” Obama said at a press conference in Kenya on Saturday. Current laws in the U.S. are aimed at controlling the import and export of ivory, while allowing some legal trade among states — a loophole that many illegal ivory dealers have used to their advantage. The new regulation, expected to be finalized later this year, would restrict ivory trade between states to items that are over 100 years old or contain only very small amounts of ivory. The U.S. is estimated to be the world's second largest ivory market, with sales outpacing all nations except China.
With Camera Drones, New Tool
For Viewing and Saving Nature
In a career spanning four decades, award-winning filmmaker Thomas Lennon has tackled topics as diverse as the Irish in America and a polluting chemical plant in China
. But it was his current project — a short film about the Delaware River — that opened his eyes to what he sees as a revolutionary new tool for viewing the natural world: the camera drone. In an interview with Yale Environment 360
, Lennon — who produced a video of drone images from the Delaware
— describes how drones are a major innovation that allows filmmakers to capture images from vantage points never before possible. “There’s an opportunity for visual excitement, but combined — and this is the key — with intimacy,” Lennon says. “And I think that can become a tool for artists as well as for environmentalists.”
Watch video | Read interview
09 Jul 2015:
Bird Fatalities at Wind Facilities
Can Be Prevented With New Model, Study Says
The U.S. Geological Survey has developed a new model that it says can help predict and prevent bird fatalities at wind facilities before
they are even built. The model
takes into account three parameters, all of which can be measured before construction: the total footprint of the turbines, avian traffic near the facility, and collision probability. The model used golden eagles as a case study because their soaring and hunting behaviors make them susceptible to turbine collisions. Golden eagles also are long-lived and reproduce relatively late in life, which means wind farm fatalities could have particularly severe population impacts. For two years, the model successfully estimated eagle collisions at a newly constructed wind facility in Wyoming, the researchers say. The model's simplicity "allows wind facility developers to consider ways to reduce bird fatalities without having to collect a complicated set of data," said Leslie New, a researcher at Washington State University, who led the project.
06 Jul 2015:
4,000-Year-Old Coral Species Near Hawaii
A newly discovered
species of coral found in deep ocean waters near Hawaii can live to be more than
Leiopathes annosa, a new coral species
4,000 years old, making it the longest-living marine species ever known, scientists report in the journal Zootaxa
. The new species, known as Leiopathes annosa
, is a type of black coral found at depths of 1,000 to 1,600 feet throughout waters off the Hawaiian Islands, including the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Although it was previously misidentified as a species from the Mediterranean Sea, L. annosa
has substantial physical differences from the Mediterranean species, say scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Smithsonian Institute. High-resolution radiocarbon dating of growth rings in the coral, much like those found in trees, showed that some L. annosa
individuals can live for more than four millennia.
Photo Gallery: Scenes From
The Golden Age of Animal Tracking
Scientists are following the lives of animals in more detail than ever before, thanks to a new generation of tracking and tagging devices. From beluga whales that collect data on the Arctic Ocean to ducks that help track the spread of avian flu, data gathered by and about animals is being used to identify conservation hotspots, reduce human-animal conflicts, and monitor the health of the planet. In an e360
gallery, we look at some intriguing projects that have used state-of-the-art animal tracking and monitoring technology.
View the gallery.
Interview: Is Cloning Mammoths
Science Fiction or Conservation?
Biologist Beth Shapiro has published a new book, How to Clone a Mammoth
, that looks at the many
questions — both technical and ethical — surrounding any attempt to revive extinct species. In a Yale Environment 360
interview, Shapiro, associate director of the Paleogenomics Institute at the University of California at Santa Cruz, explains why she believes new gene-editing technology could benefit critical ecosystems and living species that are now endangered. “We are in the midst of an extinction crisis,” she says. “Why would we not use whatever technologies are available to us, assuming we can go about doing it in a reasonable and ethical way?”
Read the interview.
15 Jun 2015:
Biodiversity Limits Parasites
In Humans, Wildlife, and Plants, Study Says
High biodiversity generally limits outbreaks of disease among humans and wildlife, University of South Florida researchers write in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
. The new research is the first to quantitatively support the controversial "dilution effect hypothesis," which warns that human-driven biodiversity losses can exacerbate parasite outbreaks. Much of the debate surrounding this idea concerns whether it applies generally or only to a few select parasites. After reviewing more than 200 published scientific assessments, the USF team found "overwhelming" evidence that the dilution effect applies broadly to many parasitic species in humans and wildlife. They also found that plant biodiversity reduces the abundance of herbivore pests. The results have implications for public health efforts, the researchers say, and make a case for better management of forests, croplands, and other ecosystems.
11 Jun 2015:
Deep Sea Coral Canyons off
Atlantic Coast to Gain Fishing Protections
A stretch of ocean that includes more than two dozen undersea coral canyons will become the largest protected area ever
A Paragorgia coral from one of the canyons.
established in U.S. Atlantic waters, after a vote
yesterday by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. The 38,000-square-mile zone encompasses waters at the edge of the continental shelf, from Virginia to Massachusetts, and includes 27 deep sea canyons, some of which are nearly 100 miles long and are as deep as the Grand Canyon. Their steep walls are excellent habitat for a rich array of coral species that thrive in cold Atlantic waters. The new protections will shield rare, vulnerable, and ecologically important coral communities from bottom fishing and trawling — a highly destructive practice that involves dragging nets along the ocean floor, often destroying thousand-year-old coral communities in the process.
04 Jun 2015:
Seven Tiny Frog Species
Are Discovered in Brazilian Forest
Seven new species of a highly miniaturized, brightly colored frog genus known as Brachycephalus
One of the species of miniaturized frogs.
discovered in the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest, researchers report
today. The frog species are restricted to cloud forests in no more than a few adjacent mountaintops, making them highly vulnerable to extinction, the researchers say. The cloud forests they inhabit are particularly sensitive to climatic conditions, and small shifts can cause major changes in the distribution of the forests. The frogs' adaptation to these specific environments prevents them from migrating across valleys as the cloud forest shifts. The long-term preservation of these species might involve not only the protection of their habitats but also more direct management efforts, such as rearing in captivity, the researchers say. Brachycephalus
frogs are among the planet's smallest terrestrial vertebrates, with adult sizes often not exceeding 1 cm in length.
22 May 2015:
Many Trees in Southeast U.S.
Closely Related to Tree Species in Asia
DNA studies show that more than half the trees and shrubs in southern Appalachia can trace their ancestry to eastern Asia.
A flowering dogwood tree
Based on molecular studies of more than 250 species of trees and shrubs from Georgia to Virginia, researchers at Duke University found close ties between East Asian species, such as dogwoods, and species in the southeastern U.S. Forests throughout the northern hemisphere were joined together by the supercontinent Laurasia as recently as 180 million years ago. Then, as the great northern land mass broke into continents, eras of glaciation wiped out various tree species. Forest remnants hung on in China, Japan, small parts of Europe, and Appalachia, which explains the similarity in tree species. The research was published in the American Journal of Botany.
Interview: A Grassroots Effort to
Save Africa’s Most Endangered Ape
The Cross River gorilla population, with fewer than 300 individuals, has been pushed to the brink of extinction in equatorial
Africa. At the center of the fight to save this beleaguered ape population is Nigerian scientist Inaoyom Imong, who comes from the region and knows its forests — and its people — intimately. In a Yale e360
interview, Imong describes the various pressures that have reduced populations of this gorilla subspecies and explains how a few thousand people living in rural Nigeria and Cameroon hold the key to saving this magnificent ape.
Read the interview.
20 May 2015:
Many Wind Turbines Installed
In Critical Bird Habitat, Group Says
More than 30,000 wind turbines in the U.S. have been installed in areas critical to the survival of federally protected birds and
an additional 50,000 turbines are planned for similar areas, according to
the advocacy group American Bird Conservancy (ABC). Those figures include 24,000 turbines in the migration corridor of the rare whooping crane and nearly 3,000 turbines in breeding strongholds for greater sage grouse
, a species that has already declined by up to 80 percent in recent decades due to habitat loss, ABC says. The group is asking the federal government to regulate the wind industry with regard to its impacts on birds. Areas of "critical importance," where federally protected birds face the highest levels of risk, comprise just 9 percent of the land area of the U.S. and should be avoided in wind development, ABC says.
06 May 2015:
Backyard Bird Feeders May Put
Native Species at a Disadvantage, Study Says
Backyard bird feeders tend to attract aggressive, introduced bird species while discouraging native species that eat
A sparrow eats at a backyard bird feeder.
insects and nectar, essentially restructuring urban bird communities and skewing them toward non-native species, a new study
says. Data based on nearly 600 surveys of 18,000 birds from 33 species in New Zealand show that yards with bird feeders tended to attract non-native omnivores such as house sparrows, spotted doves, and blackbirds. Outdoor areas without bird feeders had significantly more native bird species such as the grey warbler, whose diet consists mainly of insects. Although the population trends reversed when feeders were removed, the researchers say that over time bird feeders in urban areas likely give non-native bird species a competitive and reproductive edge over native species.
04 May 2015:
First Nations and B.C. Set
North America's Largest Ocean Protections
The Canadian province of British Columbia and 18 coastal First Nations have released marine plans
to bring the northern
Area encompassed by protection plans.
Pacific Coast of British Columbia under ecosystem-based management, completing the largest ocean plan to date anywhere in North America. The ecosystem-based approach was designed to protect the marine environment while sustaining coastal communities whose culture and commerce depend on a healthy ocean, officials say. The area under the protection plans lies between Haida Gwaii archipelago on the north coast of B.C. to Campbell River on Vancouver Island — a span of nearly 40,000 square miles, equivalent to a 200-mile-wide swath from San Francisco to San Diego. The plans were based on input from a variety of stakeholders — renewable energy developers, conservationists, aquaculture companies, small-boat fishermen, and traditional and local community members — and the best available science, officials say.
01 May 2015:
One in Six Species Facing
Extinction in Current Climate Trajectory
Future increases in global temperatures will threaten up to one in six species if current climate policies are not modified,
Nursery frogs are among the species most at risk.
according to new research
published in the journal Science
. Global extinction rates are currently at 2.8 percent, the study notes. If global average temperature rises by only 2 degrees C — a benchmark that many scientists think is no longer attainable — the extinction rate will rise to 5.2 percent, the study found. If the planet warms by 3 degrees C, the extinction risk rises to 8.5 percent. And if the current, business-as-usual trajectory continues, climate change will threaten one in six species, or 16 percent, the study says. The risk of species loss is most acute for areas that have unique climate ranges — particularly South America, Australia, and New Zealand — yet those regions are the least studied, the author notes.
27 Apr 2015:
Oceans Are the World's
Seventh Largest Economy, New Report Says
The world's oceans are worth an estimated $24 trillion and produce $2.5 trillion annually in goods and services, according to
Coral reefs are threatened by ocean acidification.
by WWF, Boston Consulting Group, and the Global Change Institute. If the global ocean ecosystem were a single nation, it would represent the world's seventh largest economy, the report says, providing goods such as fish catches and aquaculture and services such as coastal storm protection, shipping, and tourism. The oceans' assets are dwindling, though, due to threats such as ocean acidification, over-exploitation of fish stocks, and degradation of coral reefs, which could disappear completely by 2050, according to research cited in the report. The trends could be reversed, the report says, if global governments take strong action to curb climate change and if coastal countries make swift efforts to protect nearby marine ecosystems.
15 Apr 2015:
Entries Invited for e360
Contest For Best Environmental Videos
The second annual Yale Environment 360 Video Contest is now accepting entries. The contest honors the best environmental videos. Entries must be videos that focus on an environmental issue or theme, have not been widely viewed online, and are a maximum of 15 minutes in length. Videos that are funded by an organization or company and are primarily about that organization or company are not eligible. The first-place winner will receive $2,000, two runners-up will each receive $500, and all winning entries will be posted on Yale Environment 360
. The contest judges will be Yale Environment 360
editor Roger Cohn, New Yorker
writer and e360
contributor Elizabeth Kolbert, and documentary filmmaker Thomas Lennon. The deadline for entries is June 15, 2015.
14 Apr 2015:
Canada Could Lose 70 Percent
Of Glaciers by End of Century, Study Finds
British Columbia and Alberta could lose 70 percent of their glaciers by the end of the 21st century, creating major problems
Berg Glacier in British Columbia
for local ecosystems, power supplies, and water quality, according to a study in Nature Geoscience
. Wetter coastal mountain regions in northwestern British Columbia are expected to lose about half of their glacial volume, the researchers found, but the Rocky Mountains, in the drier interior portion of Canada, could lose 90 percent of their glaciers. “Soon our mountains could look like those in Colorado or California and you don’t see much ice in those landscapes,” said Garry Clarke, lead author of the study. Alberta and British Columbia have more than 17,000 glaciers and they play an important role in hydroelectric power production. The glaciers also contribute to the water supply, agriculture, and tourism, but the greatest impact of their loss could be on freshwater ecosystems, the researchers say.
Canine Conservation: Using Dogs
In War Against Poachers in Kenya
In Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy — home to some of the most endangered subspecies of rhinoceros — officials are deploying a new weapon to combat rampant rhino poaching: highly trained K-9 dogs. Six Belgian Malinois tracking and attack dogs are now working with Kenyan rangers to protect tiny populations of northern white rhinos and eastern black rhinos, which have been hunted to near-extinction by poachers seeking rhino horn for supposed medicinal purposes. Overseen by a former military dog instructor with the U.K. Royal Army Veterinary Corps, the K-9 units are being deployed not only in Ol Pejeta but also in a Tanzanian park that has been plagued by poaching. Read the article.
Natural Filters: Mussels Deployed
To Clean Up Polluted Waterways
Conservationists and scientists in the U.S. and Europe are working to re-establish declining or endangered freshwater mussel
An Eastern elliptio mussel
populations so these mollusks can use their natural filtration abilities to clean up pollution in waterways. One such program has been established on the U.S.’s Delaware River, where environmentalists and biologists are reseeding mussel populations in the more polluted sections of the river and in tributary streams. Water companies have expressed interest in these programs in the hope that large populations of freshwater mussels might eventually relieve the companies of some of the burden and expense of mechanical water filtration.
Read the article.
26 Mar 2015:
Pollution May Trigger Heath
Problems in Deep-Water Fish, Study Says
Fish living in deep waters near continental slopes have tumors, liver pathologies, and other health problems that may be
Microscopic abnormality in a black scabbardfish liver.
linked to human-generated pollution, researchers report
in the journal Marine Environmental Research
. They also describe the first case of a deep-water fish species with an “intersex” condition — a blend of male and female sex organs. In the study, which looked at fish in the Bay of Biscay west of France, researchers found a wide range of degenerative and inflammatory lesions in fish living along the continental slope, which can act as a sink for heavy metal contaminants and organic pollutants such as PCBs and pesticides. The fish that live in these deep waters are often extremely long-lived — some can be 100 years old — which allows them to bioaccumulate such contaminants. However, linking the fishes' physiological changes to pollution is preliminary at this time, the researchers said.
24 Mar 2015:
Extreme Forest Fragmentation
Documented in Comprehensive New Study
Fragmentation of the world’s forests has become so severe
that 70 percent of remaining woodlands are now within 1 kilometer of a road or other form of development, according to a new study
. Using the world’s first high-resolution satellite map of tree cover, as well as an analysis of seven long-term fragmentation studies, researchers showed that the ongoing destruction of global forests is decreasing biodiversity by as much as 75 percent in some areas and adversely affecting the ability of forests to store carbon and produce clean water. The study, published in the journal Science Advances
, found that 20 percent of the world’s forests are just 100 meters from a human-created “edge.” Even many parks and protected areas have undergone fragmentation, the study said. The few remaining large, virgin tracts of forest are found in parts of the Amazon, Siberia, Congo
, and Papua New Guinea.
Back from the Brink: Success Stories
Of the U.S. Endangered Species Act
A small minnow known as the Oregon chub
recently became the 29th species to recover after being listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the first fish to ever join those ranks. The Endangered Species Act
, signed into law in 1973, is widely considered one of the most important pieces of U.S. environmental legislation ever enacted. This e360
photo gallery highlights the 21 species
native to the United States, including the bald eagle (above), that have made recoveries strong enough to be removed from the endangered list.
Read more | View gallery of recovered species