Nature

Earth

Acoustic Sanctuaries for Marine Mammals

Imagine living in an environment of constant noise where you cannot get anything accomplished. Ocean noise pollution caused by shipping, oil and gas development, and other human activities is making this the reality for marine mammals in many places, interfering with their ability to detect prey and communicate with one another. Yet some areas of the ocean remain refuges of quiet. A new study has identified some of these acoustic sanctuaries off the coast of British Columbia in the hope that they may be protected.

Earth

The Ebola-poverty link

Last year’s Ebola outbreak spread fastest and was hardest to control in poor communities, says a study which argues that future efforts to combat highly infectious diseases should target such areas. A paper published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases at the end of 2015 showed that people in poorer parts of Montserrado county in Liberia — which contains the capital, Monrovia — were more likely to both catch Ebola and pass it on than those in wealthy neighbourhoods. Residents in areas of extreme poverty need rapid and high-quality healthcare interventions during outbreaks to contain epidemics quickly, it concludes. “The paper implies a need for more investment, time and effort spent on improving health and education in urban communities.” Elizabeth Hamann, International Rescue Committee

Earth

California Methane Leak leads to State of Emergency

An ongoing methane gas leak at a facility in Southern California — what’s been called “the nation’s biggest environmental disaster since the BP oil spill” — has officially been declared an emergency by Governor Jerry Brown.Natural gas, or methane, first started leaking from Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon storage facility on October 23 last year.Some 2,300 homes have been evacuated in nearby Porter Ranch, a neighborhood of Los Angeles, after residents began experiencing nosebleeds, rashes, headaches and other serious health impacts due to the gas leak and the sulfur-like smell that is blanketing their community.

Earth

Recycling on the ropes, France has a plan to fix the industry

Low raw material costs have dealt a heavy blow to the recycling industry. The French recycling federation (FEDEREC) believes the sector needs a complete overhaul to stay afloat in the coming years.FEDEREC published its view of the future of recycling in a white paper entitled “The recycling industry by 2030.” In the preface to this 70-page document, a frank discussion of the problems facing the industry and how they might be solved, Corinne Lepage, a Republican politician, evoked a sector “devastated by an oil price that is so low that it is driving us back towards a linear economy, as it is cheaper today to buy primary raw materials than recycled raw materials”.

Earth

Natural carbon sinks and their role in climate

Protected areas such as rainforests occupy more than one-tenth of the Earth’s landscape, and provide invaluable ecosystem services, from erosion control to pollination to biodiversity preservation. They also draw heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it in plants and soil through photosynthesis, yielding a net cooling effect on the planet.Determining the role protected areas play as carbon sinks — now and in decades to come — is a topic of intense interest to the climate-policy community as it seeks science-based strategies to mitigate climate change. Toward that end, a study in the journal Ambioestimates for the first time the amount of CO2 sequestered by protected areas, both at present and throughout the 21st century as projected under various climate and land-use scenarios.

Earth

Changing climate and reforestation

For the past six years, researchers at the Universitat Politènica de València (Polytechnic Univeristy of Valencia, UPV) have been studying the performance of twelve Aleppo pine varieties native to different regions of Spain in reforestation campaigns across three national forest areas. Different varieties or genotypes have different levels of resistance to cold and drought, which influence how well they perform in a given geographical region, and researchers wanted to find out which varieties worked best and where.To do so, the different national varieties or genotypes were used to repopulate forest areas in La Hunde, Valencia (as the control region), in the drier Granja d'Escarp, Lleida, to the north and further inland in Tramacastiel, Teruel, where the climate is much cooler.”The varieties from Inland Levante and La Mancha performed the best overall, while those from further south seem to be perfect for reforestation efforts in regions already affected by climate change,” observes Antonio del Campo, researcher at the UPV's Institute of Water and Environmental Engineering (IIAMA).

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Testing chemical toxicity challenge announced by USEPA + National Institutes of Health

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), and NIH’s National Toxicology Program (NTP) within the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) are announcing a new challenge that will award up to $1 million to improve the relevance and predictivity of data generated from automated chemical screening technology used for toxicity testing.Out of thousands of chemicals in commerce today, very few have been fully evaluated for potential health effects. Scientists from EPA, NIEHS/NTP, and NCATS are using high-throughput screening (HTS) assays to evaluate the potential health effects of thousands of chemicals. High-throughput screening uses automated methods that allow for a large number of chemicals to be rapidly evaluated for a specific type of biological activity.

Earth

How competition for sunlight shapes forest structure

Despite their diversity, the structure of most tropical rainforests is highly predictable. Scientists have described the various sizes of the trees by a simple mathematical relationship called a power law.In a new study using data from a rainforest in Panama, researchers determined that competition for sunlight is the underlying cause of this common structure, which is observed in rainforests around the globe despite differences in plant species and geography. The new finding can be used in climate simulations to predict how rainforests absorb excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Earth

New Federal dietary guidelines recommend eating less meat

Many Americans, especially men and teenage boys, eat too much red meat, poultry and eggs, and should reduce their consumption, according to new federal dietary guidelines jointly released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. Reducing Americans’ meat consumption will not only help improve public health, but reduce climate and water pollution from the meat industry.This is the first time federal dietary guidelines have included a recommendation to reduce meat consumption. The report advises that cutting back on meat can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.The new dietary advice, however, did not include the recommendation from the agencies’ expert scientific advisors that the FDA explicitly link the science-based benefits of adopting diets lower in red meat, and higher in plant-based foods, to additional benefits to environment sustainability and to food security.