Showing posts with label environment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label environment. Show all posts

03 July 2014

Deforestation in Indonesia

Exact rates of Indonesian deforestation have varied with different figures quoted by researchers and government, but a new study, which claims to be the most comprehensive yet, suggests that nearly twice as much primary forest is being cut down as in Brazil, the historical global leader...

In 2012, she calculates, Indonesia lost 840,000 hectares of its primary forest, compared to 460,000 hectares in Brazil, despite its forest being roughly a quarter the size of the Amazon. This, says Margano, was the most lost by any country...

But the figures are potentially embarrassing because they suggest that a 2011 moratorium on granting new licenses for clearing or logging of primary forests and carbon-rich peatlands could have been a driver for deforestation.

Margono and co-author Matthew Hansen said the new data from remote sensing showed that the extra losses came largely from the felling of primary forest in wetlands and in government-protected areas.
More grim details at The Guardian.

Tree-hugger's nightmare

Heavy duty forestry mulchers can clear up to fifteen acres of vegetation a day depending on terrain, density, and type of material. Forestry mulchers are often used for land clearing, right-of-way, pipeline/power line, and wildfire prevention and management, vegetation management, invasive species control, and wildlife restoration...

Forestry mulchers and forestry mowers are often used for removing underbrush and invasive species, such as buckthorn and multiflora rose, in order to allow the rejuvenation of grasses and other food sources... Invasive insects such as pine beetles can also devastate forests, leaving behind rotting trees with diminishing timber value and that may become falling hazards if they lose their ability to stand up against wind...
More at the Wikipedia page.

Related: shredding a Volkswagen Beetle.

Via The Presurfer.

05 June 2014

Smog in a thermal inversion

Photo of Almaty, Kazakhstan (credit).  A reminder of why clean air standards are important.

21 May 2014

Every polluted river needs one of these

"In an effort to battle the polluted water of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, Clearwater Mills' John Kellett and Daniel Chase helped design a solar-paneled, water-powered trash devourer that aims to make the harbor swimmable by 2020.

The Water Wheel works by funneling debris in, pushing the trash onto a conveyer belt and running the loaded conveyer belt into a dumpster. When the dumpster is full, the dock is released, hooked up to a boat and taken to a RESCO waste-to-energy plant, where it is converted to electrical energy."

06 May 2014

Benthic litter

Garbage created by humans ("anthropogenic litter") is now apparent even in the deepest parts of the ocean.  In the composite image above, the “Uncle Benn's Express Rice” packet was photographed at a depth of 967 m. (National Oceanography Centre, UK)
We found litter to be present in the deepest areas and at locations as remote from land as the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The highest litter density occurs in submarine canyons, whilst the lowest density can be found on continental shelves and on ocean ridges. Plastic was the most prevalent litter item found on the seafloor...

Plastics are a source of toxic chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins that can be lethal to marine fauna. Furthermore, the degradation of plastics generates microplastics which, when ingested by organisms, can deliver contaminants across trophic levels... Contrary to a common notion that most plastic items float at the sea surface it has been estimated that 70% of the plastic sinks to the seafloor...
More discouraging details on the trashing of our oceans at PLOS ONE.

25 March 2014

"Winterkill" explained (and updated)

From a report in the StarTribune in 2011:
Those big December snowfalls have crews on some Minnesota lakes heading onto the ice earlier than usual this winter in an effort to prevent mass fish kills.  They're on a rescue mission to install aerators and create open water before oxygen levels plummet to the point that fish essentially suffocate under the ice. Some lakes are already showing faster-than-usual oxygen depletion...

Winterkill is a natural process that happens when fish don't have enough dissolved oxygen in water, he said. Because of the ice cover, oxygen in winter comes mainly from aquatic plants, which receive enough sunlight through ice to grow.  But in years with lots of snow, sunlight penetrates ice less and plants stop growing. Instead of producing oxygen in water, the plants consume it as they die and decompose...

Sometimes it kills all the fish in a lake, he said, and sometimes it only affects part of a lake or some species of fish. It is more of an issue in southern Minnesota, he said, where more lakes tend to be shallower...
A new photo and additional details in 2014:

Lauer said the first fish to die are game fish: walleyes, bass, panfish, perch and northern. Then rough fish such as carp, suckers and bullheads succumb.

“I’d say bullheads go last,’’ said Lauer. “If we get [dead] bullheads … we know it’s been a significant kill.’’..

“I’ve never seen [this lake] winterkill,’’ said Frankie Dusenka of Frankies Live Bait and Marine in Chisago City. “There’s still 36-plus inches of ice around here; it’s amazing.’’

DNR officials drilled holes around the lake and found very low oxygen levels — 1 part per million or less. Normally, the level would be 8 to 12 parts per million...

The DNR assesses lakes with winterkill and determines whether to restock them or let natural reproduction occur. Sometimes the fish kills can help a lake by removing rough fish or reducing the number of small game fish, allowing survivors to grow larger.
Lower photo credit: Allan Nistler, StarTribune.

Honeybees are NOT native to North America

"If the honeybee is a victim of natural menaces like viruses and unnatural ones like pesticides, it's worth remembering that the bee itself is not a natural resident of the continent.  It was imported to North America in the 17th century, and it thrived until recently because it found a perfect niche in a food system that demands crops at ever cheaper prices and in ever greater quantities.  That's a man-made mercantile ecosystem that not only has been good for the bees and beekeepers but also has meant steady business and big revenue for supermarkets and grocery stores."
From an article in the August 19, 2013 issue of Time magazine.  You learn something every day.

Photo credit Ken Thomas, via Wikipedia.

19 March 2014

Animals may see UV flashes from power lines

The video, from a helicopter company, shows imaging of UV discharges from power lines.  Its relevance to the natural world is discussed at Slate:
In a report published in Conservation Biology, the scientists wrote that animals’ avoidance of power cables is likely linked with their ability to detect ultraviolet light. While the spectrum of light emitted from the lines is beyond what humans can see, it is visible to birds, rodents, and reindeer. These animals may see power cables as randomly flashing bands...

It has been known since the 1970s that birds can see UV light, and more recent studies have shown that many (mostly small) mammals can, too. Reindeer, more so than many other large mammals, have retinas that are adapted to living in the dark, which helps them forage for food during long Arctic winters. That, combined with the fact that UV light is more visible in snowy landscapes due to reflection, means that reindeer are particularly sensitive to the apparent flashing of power cables.

04 February 2014

Plight of the Monarch butterfly

The graph above was published in the Badger Butterflyer - the e-newsletter of the Southern Wisconsin Butterfly Association.  The bar graphs depict the 20-year trend of the acreage in Mexico utilized by overwintering Monarch butterflies.  This past December's 1.66 acres of wintering butterflies is the lowest ever recorded since recordkeeping began.

The cause is multifactorial, including loss of habitat in Mexico and weather/climate changes, but the principal factor is believed to be loss of milkweed - the Monarch's ONLY food plant.  An article at Slate takes up the story:
More than a million acres of Upper Midwest grassland have been plowed under in recent years for corn and soybean fields—a rate of loss comparable to deforestation in places like Brazil and Indonesia. Demand for these crops has surged with the rise of biofuels. At the same time, technology enabled farmers to squeeze ever more from each acre. For monarchs, the most important development was Roundup Ready corn and soybeans.

Since the turn of the century, these genetically modified crops have risen to
dominance in the Midwest. Designed to withstand dousing from the Monsanto company’s Roundup weed killer, the plants enabled farmers to swiftly kill competing weeds, including milkweed, while leaving their crops untouched. In 2013, 83 percent of all corn and 93 percent of soybeans in the United States were herbicide tolerant, totaling nearly 155 million acres, much of it in the Midwest.

It’s no coincidence monarchs faltered at the same time. Karen Oberhauser, a conservation biologist at the University of Minnesota, and a colleague estimated that as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soybeans spread across the Midwest, the amount of milkweed in farm fields fell by more than 80 percent. Oberhauser determined that the loss of milkweed almost exactly mirrored the decline in monarch egg production...

Already, Iowa farmland has lost more than 98 percent of the milkweed that was once there, according to Iowa State University biologist John Pleasants, who worked with Oberhauser. He’s seen firsthand the transformation as he has studied cornfields during the past decade and a half. Before Roundup, patches of milkweed grew among the corn and along the edges of fields. After the herbicide—nothing but corn... 
Here's the advice that Michigan State University's agricultural extension service offered its subscribers:
Common milkweed, asclepias syriaca, can become a serious problem over time in no-till fields and hay and pasture fields where glyphosate-resistance in the crop is not an option. This weed has an extensive and deep root system and is tolerant to many common herbicides. Multiple herbicide applications are often required...

In glyphosate-resistant crops, milkweed control is not difficult to control. Glyphosate [Roundup], when applied at the proper rate and timing, will give good control. In glyphosate-resistant corn and soybeans, milkweed should be treated with glyphosate at 0.75 lbs a.e./acre glyphosate to control or suppress milkweed. It is always recommended to include 17 lbs spray-grade ammonium sulfate per 100 gallons of water. Late, post-emergent applications when plants are in the bloom stage will be most effective in killing roots...

In hay or pasture, milkweed can be spot-treated with glyphosate applied with a wipe-on applicator while the milkweed is taller than the crop, or spot-treated with a hand-sprayer. When these fields are rotated or renovated, that is the time to make your best effort to deal with milkweed aggressively. Fence rows, field borders and nearby, non-crop areas should be monitored and any milkweed found should be controlled.
And this from Britain's Guardian:
The announcement [of the decreased Mexican overwintering population] followed on the heels of the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which saw the United States, Mexico and Canada signing environmental accords to protect migratory species such as the Monarch. At the time, the butterfly was adopted as the symbol of trilateral cooperation.

“Twenty years after the signing of NAFTA, the Monarch migration, the symbol of the three countries’ cooperation, is at serious risk of disappearing,” said Omar Vidal, Omar Vidal, the World Wildlife Fund director in Mexico.
This coming weekend I will be attending the annual late-winter Garden Expo here in Madison, where thousands of cabin-fevered Midwesterners will flock to see the latest in garden products and technology.  I'll be helping staff the information booth for SWBA;  I hope to be handing out ziplock baggies of milkweed seeds to likeminded people who want to do something to help sustain the Monarchs. 

31 January 2014

Dumping on the Great Barrier Reef

"Australia's Great Barrier Reef watchdog gave the green light on Friday for millions of cubic metres of dredged mud to be dumped near the fragile reef to create the world's biggest coal port and possibly unlock $28 billion in coal projects.

The dumping permit clears the way for a major expansion of the port of Abbot Point for two Indian firms and Australian billionaire miner Gina Rinehart, who together have $16 billion worth of coal projects in the untapped, inland Galilee Basin.

Environmentalists, scientists and tourist operators had fought the plan, which they fear will harm delicate corals and seagrasses and potentially double the ship traffic through the World Heritage marine park.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, an independent government agency charged with protecting the reef, acknowledged the concerns, but said expanding Abbot Point would require much less dredging than other port options.

"It's important to note the seafloor of the approved disposal area consists of sand, silt and clay and does not contain coral reefs or seagrass beds," the marine park authority's chairman, Russell Reichert, said in a statement..."
Fortunately, the dredged material will all stay in one place after it's dumped, and won't move around or anything like that, because there aren't any, you know, currents or waves or such.

"Look at that, you son of a bitch"

(Reposted from 2011 to accompany the Great Barrier Reef post above.)

29 January 2014

Say goodbye to the axolotl

The axolotl... also known as a Mexican salamander (Ambystoma mexicanum) or a Mexican walking fish, is a neotenic salamander, closely related to the tiger salamander. Although the axolotl is colloquially known as a "walking fish", it is not a fish, but an amphibian. The species originates from numerous lakes, such as Lake Xochimilco underlying Mexico City. Axolotls are unusual among amphibians in that they reach adulthood without undergoing metamorphosis. Instead of developing lungs and taking to land, the adults remain aquatic and gilled.
Sad news today, as reported by The Guardian:
Mexico's salamander-like axolotl may have disappeared from its only known natural habitat in Mexico City's few remaining lakes....

The axolotl is known as the "water monster" and the "Mexican walking fish." Its only natural habitat is the Xochimilco network of lakes and canals, which are suffering from pollution and urban sprawl. Biologist Armando Tovar Garza, of Mexico's National Autonomous University, described an attempt last year by researchers to try to net axolotls in the shallow, muddy waters of Xochimilco as "four months of sampling zero axolotls"...

The Mexican Academy of Sciences said a 1998 survey had found an average of 6,000 axolotls for each square km, a figure that dropped to 1,000 in a 2003 study, and 100 in a 2008 survey.
Our children's children will grow up in a vastly depleted and markedly less interesting world.  (Unless they are interested in cockroaches and jellyfish).

Update (March 2014): I should have used "au revoir" rather than "goodbye" in the title, because some survivors in the wild have been located -
"...biologist Armando Tovar Garza of Mexico's National Autonomous University said Friday that members of the team carrying out the search had seen two axolotls during the first three weeks of a second survey expected to conclude in April."

16 December 2013

Artificial sweeteners in a large Canadian river system

From the study published in PLoS One:
Artificial sweeteners have been widely incorporated in human food products for aid in weight loss regimes, dental health protection and dietary control of diabetes. Some of these widely used compounds can pass non-degraded through wastewater treatment systems...

In order to determine the riverine concentrations of artificial sweeteners and their usefulness as a tracer of wastewater at the scale of an entire watershed, we analyzed samples from 23 sites along the entire length of the Grand River, a large river in Southern Ontario, Canada, that is impacted by agricultural activities and urban centres. Municipal water from household taps was also sampled from several cities within the Grand River Watershed. Cyclamate, saccharin, sucralose, and acesulfame were found in elevated concentrations despite high rates of biological activity, large daily cycles in dissolved oxygen and shallow river depth. The maximum concentrations that we measured for sucralose (21 µg/L), cyclamate (0.88 µg/L), and saccharin (7.2 µg/L) are the highest reported concentrations of these compounds in surface waters to date anywhere in the world....

The effects of artificial sweeteners on aquatic biota in rivers and in the downstream Great Lakes are largely unknown.
The top image shows the sampling sites.  The graph below demonstrates that the aquatic concentrations corrrelate with the size of the human population upstream from the sample sites:

More at the link.

11 November 2013

Ritual whale slaughter in the Faroe Islands

Whaling in the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic has been practiced since about the time of the first Norse settlements on the islands. It is regulated by Faroese authorities but not by the International Whaling Commission as there are disagreements about the Commission's legal competency for small cetaceans. Around 950 Long-finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala melaena) are killed annually, mainly during the summer. The hunts, called grindadráp in Faroese, are non-commercial and are organized on a community level; anyone can participate. The hunters first surround the pilot whales with a wide semicircle of boats. The boats then drive the pilot whales slowly into a bay or to the bottom of a fjord.

Many Faroese consider the hunt an important part of their culture and history. Animal-rights groups criticize the hunt as being cruel and unnecessary. As of the end of November 2008 the chief medical officers of the Faroe Islands have recommended that pilot whales no longer be considered fit for human consumption because of the levels of toxins in the whales...

The primary reason for the Faeroes abstaining from joining the EU was in an effort to prevent the EU from meddling in their fishing policies. The slaughter of cetaceans is illegal within the European Union
More details, photographs, and a couple videos at this link.

01 November 2013

Attempt to protect part of the Antarctic Ocean fails

Someday I hope to post some good news about the health and future of the world's oceans.  Today is not that day.
Talks to create the world's two largest marine reserves in the Antarctic have broken down, with conservationists branding Russia a "repeat offender" for blocking an international agreement.

Delegates from 24 nations and the European Union have been locked in talks in Hobart for the past 10 days at the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

But the negotiations have ended in frustration for the nations, including Australia and the US, that proposed vast protected zones around Antarctica, with Russia, Ukraine and China refusing to back the plans...
"It's a bad day, not just for Antarctica but for the world's oceans, because so many fisheries are over-exploited and this was the one place we could create a reserve," she said. "The fact it can be blocked by a few nations with interests in fishing is very hard to take.
The failure of the talks is the third time in the past year that the proposals for protected zones have failed to find agreement among the commission's nations...

The region is considered by scientists as vital to the health of the world's marine life. It is estimated that three-quarters of all aquatic life is sustained by the nutrient-rich waters of the Southern Ocean, which are transported by an enormous current into the northern hemisphere.
More grim details at The Guardian.

Vietnam War military trash recycled by locals

A hat tip to my brother-in-law, who found an intersting report in The Aviationist:
...even if they can be refueled by aerial tankers, tactical jet planes heavily rely on the JP-8 fuel loaded on the external fuel tanks. However, the auxiliary fuel tanks represent an additional weight, additional drag, and they will reduce the aircraft maneuverability.
In real combat, external fuel tanks are jettisoned when empty or as soon as the aircraft needs to get rid of them to accelerate and maneuver against an enemy fighter plane or to evade a surface to air missile.
During the Vietnam War thousands of fuel tanks were jettisoned by U.S. combat aircraft.  The photos above (credit Hilli Rathner) demonstrate how locals have repurposed the tanks into serviceable boats not dissimilar in design to traditional watercraft.  The images below appear to show a similar unmodified fuel tank awaiting conversion, along with other military scrap.

24 October 2013

"Who speaks for the human species?"

Carl Sagan lived and spoke in an era when nuclear war and nuclear winter were paramount concerns.  That risk has not gone away, but were Carl Sagan alive today, I suspect his attention would be focused on environmental degradation.

Via The Dish.

22 October 2013

How the world's oceans are being destroyed

Excerpts from an essay published in the Newcastle (NSW) Herald, by a man who recently sailed the western Pacific:
What was missing was the cries of the seabirds which, on all previous similar voyages, had surrounded the boat.  The birds were missing because the fish were missing...  No fish. No birds. Hardly a sign of life at all...

North of the equator, up above New Guinea, the ocean-racers saw a big fishing boat working a reef in the distance.

"All day it was there, trawling back and forth. It was a big ship, like a mother-ship," he said. And all night it worked too, under bright floodlights. And in the morning Macfadyen was awoken by his crewman calling out, urgently, that the ship had launched a speedboat.

"Obviously I was worried. We were unarmed and pirates are a real worry in those waters. I thought, if these guys had weapons then we were in deep trouble." But they weren't pirates, not in the conventional sense, at least. The speedboat came alongside and the Melanesian men aboard offered gifts of fruit and jars of jam and preserves.

"And they gave us five big sugar-bags full of fish," he said. "They were good, big fish, of all kinds. Some were fresh, but others had obviously been in the sun for a while.

"We told them there was no way we could possibly use all those fish. There were just two of us, with no real place to store or keep them. They just shrugged and told us to tip them overboard. That's what they would have done with them anyway, they said.

"They told us that his was just a small fraction of one day's by-catch. That they were only interested in tuna and to them, everything else was rubbish. It was all killed, all dumped. They just trawled that reef day and night and stripped it of every living thing."
The essay goes on to detail seeing evidence of the Japanese tsunami in mid-ocean -
Ivan's brother, Glenn, who boarded at Hawaii for the run into the United States, marvelled at the "thousands on thousands" of yellow plastic buoys. The huge tangles of synthetic rope, fishing lines and nets. Pieces of polystyrene foam by the million. And slicks of oil and petrol, everywhere.

Countless hundreds of wooden power poles are out there, snapped off by the killer wave and still trailing their wires in the middle of the sea...
All of this is anecdotal, of course, but still unbelieveably tragic.  The children of our generation will inherit a world with vastly depleted and damaged oceans, and those living far inland will not be unaffected.

21 October 2013

Global "worming"

I've blogged before about the dangers earthworms pose to forest ecosystems.  The topic was discussed this past week in a feature article ("Saving the Great North Woods") in the StarTribune.  Most of the article centered on the effects of a warming climate on the health and variety of trees in the forests (especially in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area - BWCA), but these comments are worthy of note:
These invasive creatures, spread mostly by anglers dumping their bait, have taken up residence in about half of the million-acre wilderness, by one estimate. And they are re-engineering the forest floor as they go.

At dusk Chaffin provided a tour of a colony of night crawlers — the most damaging of the worms — residing beneath a massive basswood tree behind his campsite. Each year, the worms can eat a season’s worth of basswood leaves, depriving the forest floor of “duff,’’ the carpetlike layer of decaying matter that is a critical component of northern American forests.

In a healthy forest, the duff keeps tree roots cool, germinates tree seeds and mushrooms, and provides a home for ovenbirds, salamanders and other small creatures. But below this basswood the earth is bare, a circle of hard-packed dirt 30 feet in diameter. Trees that might fare better here as the climate warms — hardwoods such as red maple and basswood — can’t take root in the packed dirt. Instead, the worms create ideal conditions for invasives such as buckthorn and garlic mustard, plants that evolved with them in Europe.

“It’s like a buffet line” for worms, said Chaffin, marveling at their ingenuity. But in the process, he added, they “are fundamentally changing the foundation of the forest.”
Photo by me years ago - I encountered this little fellow while digging in the sandy soil of northern Minnesota. He was unhappy about being exposed, and curled into this defensive - or threatening? - posture.

24 September 2013

The slaughter of rhinoceros

I've written five posts about the ongoing worldwide slaughter of rhinoceros.  I hate to keep harping on the subject, but it keeps happening:
Nearly 700 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in 2013, making it the bloodiest year yet for rhino poaching. Last year, a record 668 rhinos were poached for their horns, but that figure has already been eclipsed with the deaths of 688 rhinos with three months left of the year, figures from the South African government show. There are around 18,000 white and 4,000 black rhinos in the country.

The dramatic growth in rhino poaching in South Africa, up from just 13 in 2007, has largely been driven by demand in Asia, in particular Vietnam, where rhino horn is seen as a status symbol. A survey of 720 people in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, published earlier this month, found that typical buyers were "educated, successful and powerful individuals" and use rhino horn as currency in networking.
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