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Showing posts with label Planet and Environment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Planet and Environment. Show all posts

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Our current food system can only feed 3.4 billion people sustainably

Rice harvest in Williams, California. | Ken James / Getty Images

According to a recent analysis of global agriculture, as it stands, our food system can only feed 3.4 billion people before reaching sustainable global production limits. However, according to the analysis, reorganizing agricultural crops and making certain changes in diets would allow us to meet the food needs of 10 billion people on a sustainable basis.

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" We must not go further in the production of food at the expense of the environment, " says Dieter Gerten, of the Climate Impact Research Institute in Potsdam, Germany, and author of the study.

In 2009, researchers identified nine potential “planetary limits”: thresholds that we should not exceed if we want to keep the systems necessary for life on Earth viable.

Gerten's team examined four rules / limits that are relevant to agriculture: limiting the use of nitrogen (causes dead zones in lakes and oceans), limiting the withdrawal of fresh water from rivers and l exploitation of forests, and maintain biodiversity.

Very harmful food production in certain areas

The team's conclusion is that half of food production today exceeds these limits. However, this analysis is also the first to provide an overview of where, geographically, these are transgressed. By changing what is grown in specific places, the team says it would be possible to feed 10 billion people within the four limits.

Potential for sustainable recalibration of the food system. Increases in caloric intake are possible in the green areas; reductions due to overly detrimental food production are shown in red. Credits: Gerten et al. 2020

This would involve reseeding farms in areas where more than 5% of species are threatened, reforesting agricultural land where more than 85% of tropical forests have been felled, reducing water withdrawals for irrigation and d 'other purposes, as well as the reduction of nitrogen fertilization when the levels in surface waters are too high. The holdings could be enlarged in areas where these limits are not exceeded.

This could, for example, mean restricting the use of fertilizers in parts of eastern China and central Europe, and expanding it in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the western United States.

Drastic measures in anticipation of 2050…

Such changes would allow the sustainable production of enough food for 7.8 billion people, roughly equivalent to the current global population. Reducing food waste and stopping excessive consumption of meat could then bring this figure to 10.2 billion, slightly more than the world population forecast for 2050.

However, the team warns that these solutions assume that the planet will not warm by more than 1.5 ° C. Subsequent studies will therefore look at the effects of global warming beyond this stage. But on the other hand, the team assumes in the study that the world depends only on existing technologies, and not on new approaches such as genome editing, the use of solar panels to grow food or new agricultural technologies, which could be a game-changer.


Feeding ten billion people is possible within four terrestrial planetary boundaries

Dieter Gerten, Vera Heck, Jonas Jägermeyr, Benjamin Leon Bodirsky, Ingo Fetzer, Mika Jalava, Matti Kummu, Wolfgang Lucht, Johan Rockström, Sibyll Schaphoff & Hans Joachim Schellnhuber

Nature Sustainability (2020)


Sunday, 8 December 2019

Plants emit sounds when stressed

At first considered more or less inert by science, plants have in fact turned out to be very dynamic entities that can detect and interact with their environment as animals do. After showing that plants can communicate with each other using a universal chemical language, and even travel short distances, researchers have recently discovered that they are also capable of producing sounds in response to different types of stress.

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Although it has been revealed in recent years that plants are able to see, hear and smell, they are still considered silent. But, for the first time, they were recorded producing sounds when stressed, which researchers say could open a new field for precision farming, where farmers would listen to crops lacking water or nutrients.

Itzhak Khait and colleagues at Israel's Tel Aviv University discovered that tomato and tobacco plants emit sounds when they are stressed by lack of water or when their stems are cut off at frequencies that humans can not hear. Microphones placed 10 centimeters from the plants received sounds in the ultrasonic range of 20 to 100 kilohertz, which insects and some mammals would be able to hear and detect within 5 meters.

Researchers even suggest that butterflies may not lay their eggs on a plant that seems stressed by lack of water. Plants could even hear that others lack water, and react accordingly. Previously, devices were installed on plants to record the vibrations caused by the formation and explosion of air bubbles - a process known as cavitation - inside xylem tubes used for transporting 'water.

Sounds produced in response to different types of stress

But this new study is the first to record plant sounds emitted from a distance. On average, drought-stressed tomato plants emitted 35 sounds per hour, while tobacco plants produced 11. When plant stems were cut, tomato plants averaged 25 sounds per hour. and those of tobacco 15. Unstressed plants produced less than one noise per hour, on average.

a) Experimental protocol used by the researchers. b), c) and d): Amplitudes and number of sounds emitted by tobacco plants and tomatoes lacking water or cut. Credits: I. Khait et al. 2019

It is even possible to distinguish the sounds to know what is the source of the stress. Researchers conducted a deep-learning algorithm to distinguish between plant sounds and wind, rain, and other noise from the greenhouse, correctly identifying in most cases whether the stress was due to drought or at a break, depending on the intensity and frequency of the sound. Tobacco stressed by lack of water seems to produce louder sounds than cut tobacco, for example.

Depending on the frequency and intensity of the sounds emitted, it is possible to identify the plant species and the stress they experience. Credits: I. Khait et al. 2019

Although Khait and his colleagues are only interested in tomato and tobacco plants, they think that other plants can also make sounds when stressed. In a preliminary study, they also recorded ultrasonic sounds from a cactus ( Mammillaria spinosissima ) and amoxicillam ( Lamium amplexicaule ). Cavitation is a possible explanation of how plants generate sounds.

Better understanding plant stress: towards micro-controlled agriculture?

Enabling farmers to listen to water stressed plants could "open a new path in the field of precision agriculture," the researchers suggest. They add that such capacity will become increasingly important as climate change exposes more areas to drought.

The authors warn that the results can not yet be extended to other stresses, such as salt or temperature, as they do not lead to sounds. In addition, no experiment was conducted to show whether a butterfly or any other animal could hear and respond to the sounds emitted by the plants. This idea remains hypothetical, for the moment.

If plants emit sounds when stressed, cavitation is the most likely mechanism, says Edward Farmer of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. But he is skeptical about the results and would like to see more controls, such as the sounds of a soil that dries without plants.

Note: This is Still an experimental research which yet needs to be published in valid journal, this article is taken from review Journal


Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Scientists have found a place on Earth where there is no life

Hyperacid, hypersalated and hot ponds in the geothermal field of Dallol (Ethiopia). Despite the presence of liquid water, this multi-extreme system does not allow the development of life, according to a new study. Credits: Puri López-García

"WHY A PLANET WITH  LIQUID WATER IS NOT ENOUGH, Forms of life have been found everywhere: in Antarctica, at the bottom of the deepest mines and even in the alkaline waters of the so-called Dead Sea, micro-organisms of all kinds proliferate. But to Dallol, in the depression of Dancalia, in Ethiopia, nothing seems to survive, says research published in Nature Ecology & Evolution"

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A volcanic crater full of salt that gives off smoky toxic gases, where the water boils in intense hydrothermal activity and the daily temperatures in winter can exceed 45 ° C. A hostile and multi-extreme environment: very hot, very salty and very acidic at the same time. We have not just crossed the gates of hell: we are at  Dallol , in the  Danakil depression , in Ethiopia. It is in this place that a team of Franco-Spanish scientists, led by biologists  Jodie Belilla and  Purificación López-García of the French Cnrs, has discovered how it is impossible for forms of life to remain.

A few months ago,  another study - also conducted in Dallol and published in  Scientific Reports - which highlighted an opposite result: the  finding of nanobacteria . That territory, so apparently inhospitable, was described as a valid example for understanding the environmental limits of life, both on Earth and in other parts of the Solar System. And the geothermal area of ​​Dallol was proposed as a terrestrial analogue of a primitive Mars (as it was three billion years ago). The conclusions of López-García and colleagues, now published in  Nature Ecology & Evolution, are of a different opinion . "After analyzing many more samples than the previous jobs - with appropriate controls to avoid contaminating them and with a well calibrated methodology - we verified that in these salty, hot and hyperacid pools the microbial life is absent. As it is absent in the adjacent salt lakes, rich in magnesium », emphasizes López-García.

Yes, there is a great variety of  halophilic archaea (primitive microorganisms that live in highly saline environments) in the desert and in the canyons around the hydrothermal site," adds the biologist, "but not in the hyperacid and hypersaline pools, nor in the so-called black and yellow lakes of Dallol, where magnesium abounds. And this despite the fact that the microbial dispersion, in this area, is intense, due to the wind and human visitors ".

There are two obstacles to life that prevent micro-organisms from developing inside the ponds: the abundance of magnesium salts  caotropic - capable of breaking hydrogen bonds and causing protein denaturation - and the simultaneous presence of conditions such as l hypersalinity, hyperacidity and high temperature.

To confirm this, the team of scientists has used various research methods such as: massive sequencing of  genetic markers to detect and classify microorganisms, chemical analysis of  brines and  scanning electron microscopy combined with  X-ray spectroscopy , used to analyze silicon-rich mineral precipitates. «In other studies, in addition to the possible contamination of samples with  archaea from adjacent lands, these mineral particles may have been interpreted as fossilized cells, but in reality they form spontaneously in brines even if there is no life, "observes López-García, pointing out that caution is needed in relying on the apparently cellular appearance - or "biological" - of a structure, because it could be non-living systems.

Microbial cells (left) can be easily confused with silica-rich mineral precipitates (right). Credits: Karim Benzerara, Puri López-García et al

"We would never expect to find life in similar environments on other planets, at least not life that is not based on a biochemistry similar to that on earth," says López-García, insisting on the need to have more clues and analyze all possible alternatives before reaching a conclusion. "Our study shows that there are places on the earth's surface, such as the pools of Dallol, which are sterile even if they contain water in the liquid state," concludes the researcher, remarking as a criterion such as the presence of liquid water, often used to suggest the habitability of a planet, does not necessarily imply the presence of life.


Article: Hyperdiverse archaea near life limits at the geothermal polyextreme Dallol area

Authors: Jodie Belilla, David Moreira, Ludwig Jardillier, Guillaume Reboul, Karim Benzerara, Jose M. Lopez-Garcia, Paola Bertolino, Ana I. López-Archilla, Purification López-García

Magazine: Nature Ecology & Evolution
Vol .: 3, pages 1552-1561

DOI: 10.1038 / s41559-019-1005-0

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Scientists declare "climate emergency" and set indicators for an effective global plan of action

A global coalition of scientists, including 11,000 signatories, believes that "indeterminate human suffering" is inevitable without drastic, deep and lasting changes in human activities that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Other factors related to climate change are also targeted.

" Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we continued to act as if nothing had happened and we did not manage to cope with this crisis, " said William J. Ripple, co-director of coalition - alongside Christopher Wolf - and distinguished professor of ecology at the OSU College of Forestry. " Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than expected by many scientists  ."

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In an article published yesterday in the journal BioScience , the authors, as well as more than 11,000 scientific scientists from 153 countries, declare a climate emergency. They include graphs of adverse trends and vital signs to measure progress. They finally propose a set of effective mitigation measures.

Scientists point to six areas in which humanity should take immediate action to slow the effects of global warming:

Energy . Implement massive conservation practices; replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewable energies; leave the remaining stocks of fossil fuels in the soil; eliminate fossil fuel business subsidies; and impose carbon royalties high enough to limit the use of fossil fuels.

Short-lived pollutants . Rapidly reduce emissions of methane, soot, hydrofluorocarbons and other short-lived climate pollutants; This could reduce the short-term warming trend by more than 50% in the coming decades.

Nature . Restore and protect ecosystems such as forests, grasslands, peat bogs, wetlands and mangroves, and enable more of these ecosystems to reach their ecological potential for the sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. one of the main greenhouse gases.

Food . Consume more plants and less animal products. The regime change would significantly reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases and release agricultural land for the production of human food rather than feed. Reducing food waste is also crucial. Indeed, scientists say that at least a third of all food produced ends up in garbage.

Economy . Convert the current economy into a carbon-free economy to address human dependence on the biosphere and away from gross domestic product growth and the pursuit of wealth. Curb the exploitation of ecosystems to maintain the long-term sustainability of the biosphere.

Population . Stabilize a global human population growing by more than 200,000 people per day, using approaches that ensure social and economic justice.

" Mitigating and adapting to climate change while respecting human diversity implies major transformations in the ways in which our global society operates and interacts with natural ecosystems, " the document says.

" We are encouraged by the recent worry. Government agencies make declarations of climatic urgency. Schoolchildren are hitting. The court cases for ecocide continue in the courts. Citizen movements are demanding change, and many countries, states and provinces, cities and businesses are responding. As a global coalition of scientists, we are ready to help policymakers in a just transition towards a sustainable and equitable future, "reads.

The vital sign graphs in the document illustrate several key indicators and drivers of climate change over the last 40 years, since scientists from 50 countries gathered at the first World Climate Conference in Geneva in 1979.

Evolution of human activities in the world from 1979 to today. These indicators are linked at least in part to climate change. In graph (f), the annual loss of forest cover can be due to any reason (forest fire, harvest in tree plantations, conversion of forests to agricultural land, etc.). For graph (h), hydroelectricity and nuclear energy (missing) are shown in a separate graph. The rates shown in the tables are percentages of variation over the entire range of time series. Annual data are indicated in gray dots. The black lines are local regressions smoothed of trends. Credits: William J. Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas M. Newsome, Phoebe Barnard, William R. Moomaw

In recent decades, many other global assemblies have agreed that urgent action is essential, but greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase rapidly. Other worrying signs of human activities include the steady increase in meat production per capita, the loss of global forest cover and the number of air passengers.

There are also encouraging signs, including a drop in the birth rate worldwide and a decrease in forest loss in the Brazilian Amazon, as well as an increase in wind and solar energy, but even these measures are tinged with worry. For example, the decline in the birth rate has slowed over the last 20 years and the rate of extinction of the Amazonian forest seems to be starting to increase again.

" Global surface temperature, ocean heat content, extreme weather and cost, sea level, ocean acidity, and US burned area are on the rise,  " Ripple said. " Overall, the ice is rapidly disappearing, as evidenced by the decrease in the minimal summer Arctic ice pack, the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica and the thickness of the glaciers. All these rapid changes underline the urgent need for action, "concludes Ripple


Saturday, 2 November 2019

The 2 million years ancient ice reveals crucial information about the Earth's carbon cycle

A team of scientists worked more than two years to achieve these results: the oldest complete ice core provided a reliable snapshot of the atmosphere of our planet as it was nearly 2 million years ago. years. And the data presented is not what we would have expected.

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We know that about a million years ago, the cycle of the Earth's ice ages suddenly changed: since that change, deeper and longer gels only occur every 100,000 years or so, once every 40,000 years.

Nothing on our planet could explain this "brutal" change, better known as the middle Pleistocene transition known  as  MPT  (English Mid-Pleistocene transition), and with few other explanations, some hypothesized long-term decline in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, cooling the planet to a new threshold.

But the old air bubbles trapped in the Antarctic ice floe revealed somewhat different information. Indeed, dating back to about 1.5 million years ago, these tiny amounts of our ancient atmosphere reveal " incredibly low " CO2 levels , according to palaeoclimatologist Yige Zhang, of Texas A & M University, who did not participate in the study and stated that he found the results "quite interesting".

These are the first direct observations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere before the intervals between the Ice ages on Earth begin to lengthen. These observations also suggest that something else that a long-term decline in CO2 has been involved in the change in the complete cycle of the ice age of our planet.

Blue ice near the Allan Hills area in Antarctica. Environmental conditions in this area attract old ice to the surface. Scientists analyzed the air trapped in a core of ice drilled in this region, to obtain the first direct measurements of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, dating back two million years ago. Credits: Sean Mackay

The oldest ice sample that we could test for CO2 levels prior to this new core, dates back only 800,000 years ago: other estimates based on sediment chemistry Earth are only useful as indirect indicators of greenhouse gas levels, they are not useless, but additional verifications are needed.

But the new ice analysis, which exploited more precise measurements than before, revealed that: " although the CO2 levels during the glaciations have remained much higher than the troughs recorded in the ice depths during the 800 ' In the last few years, maximum CO2 concentrations during the interglacial periods have not decreased,  "said Eric Wolff, Earth Science Scientist at the University of Cambridge, who wrote a report on the research.

"  One of the important results of this study is that the carbon dioxide level is temperature-related at the beginning of this period, " said Atmosphere Specialist Ed Brook of Oregon State University. " This is an important baseline for understanding climate science and calibrating predictive models of future change ," he added.

In other words, the relationship between CO2 levels and temperature in Antarctica has not changed much during this period. And, according to scientists, the low levels of CO2 during ice ages are probably only a consequence of the shorter glacial periods that occurred before TWA.

The authors also found that the lowest levels of CO2 did not occur during the first 40'000 years after MPT. " Our results seem to contradict the assumptions that attribute the transition to a world from 100,000 years before a change, to a long-term decline in atmospheric CO2, both interglacial and glacial," the researchers write.

In his report of the research, Wolff congratulated the researchers for their precise estimates, but also argues that "  s complete and undisturbed chronological eries" is needed to bring CO2 levels in context.

Fortunately, the old ice core, discovered in the Allan Hills, Antarctica, may soon have company. Indeed, researchers predict that the ice cover dates back to 2.7 million years or more. " We do not know the age limit in this area,  " Brook said.

And, given the extent of ice movement in this region, new cores that researchers will be analyzing soon will most likely come in discontinuous sections. "  There could be much older elements in some places. That's why we're going back. To grow beyond two million years would be truly incredible, "added Brook. As a result, their future information can help us learn more about some of the mysteries of the planet.

VIDEO: Ice reveals crucial information about the ancient Earth's atmosphere


Thursday, 31 October 2019

Cover Arctic sea ice with silica microspheres to stop melting ice

One of the direct consequences of global warming is the rapid and massive melting of Arctic ice. However, these icy expanses play an essential role on Earth: they reflect a part of the solar light received in space, thus allowing to regulate the planetary heat. However, with the increasing increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures are rising, leading to an ever-increasing melting of ice, which can less and less return sunlight, and a vicious circle thus sets in. To address this, the Ice911 International Association is proposing to cover key areas of the Arctic with silica microspheres, which would act as solar reflectors.

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The Arctic is melting at unprecedented speed: Greenland ice is disappearing six times faster than four decades ago. In August, the ice cap lost 60 billion tonnes in just five days of summer thaw. Over the last four decades, 75% of Arctic ice volume has been lost. The current extent of pack ice is the second lowest since scientists began to monitor developments in 1979.

In addition to raising the sea level, this melting contributes significantly to climate change, as Arctic ice reflects sunlight in space. Therefore, less ice means less heat removed from the planet, resulting in an ever greater melting.

Cover the Arctic with silica microspheres to reflect sunlight

Ice911, a non-profit association, offers a potential solution to this threatening feedback loop: the group proposed to cover key parts of the Arctic with millions of hollow glass microspheres to form a protective layer that would reflect sunlight and isolate the ice. " We are a creative species and we need to slow down climate change, " says Leslie Field, founder of Ice911.

The small spheres developed by Ice911 are more like grains of sand than pearls. They are made from silica, a compound of silicon and oxygen, because this material is abundant in the world and harmless for humans and animals. In a sense, the material looks a lot like snow. Reflective beads adhere to ice and water on contact and their chemical composition allows them to avoid attracting oil-based pollutants.

Silica microspheres developed by Ice911. Credits: Susan Kramer / Ice 911

The Ice911 simulations suggest that using technology to restore ice reflectivity could help lower temperatures by 1.5 ° C over much of the northern Arctic. But so far, the technology is still in the field test phase. Field reports that Ice911 started with a very small experience on the terrace of his own home, then conducted small tests in a lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and in a Minnesota pond.

Stop the disappearance of pack ice in just three years

In the past two years, Field and his colleagues have brought microspheres into the Arctic, where they have been spread on a frozen lake near Utqia Utvik (Barrow), Alaska. The results, some of which were reported in a May 2018 study , suggest that silica beads did increase reflectivity and ice thickness.

Field does not want to cover the 1.6 million square kilometers of Arctic sea ice with logs. Instead, his team uses climate models to identify strategic areas of the Arctic where microspheres could have maximum impact. One of these areas is the Fram Strait between Greenland and Svalbard. This region is warming almost four times faster than the global average.

Ice911 tested its silica microspheres on localized ice extent in Alaska. Credits: Susan Kramer / Ice 911

Field thinks that in three years, Ice911's technology could be used to stop the disappearance of the pack ice. But she estimates that the dispersion of microspheres would cost about 5 billion US dollars. " When you look at this cost, it's huge. But the cost of doing nothing is far higher . " For the moment, Ice911 still needs to perform more tests and obtain the necessary approvals from governments and environmental groups before considering a large-scale deployment.
Melting arctic ice: an alarming climate
Every September, the Arctic sea ice reaches its minimum extent. Since the 1980s, this minimum has decreased by about 13% per decade and the decline is accelerating. In 1979, the Arctic sea ice covered about 7 million square kilometers. Last month, its extent had dropped to 4.3 million square kilometers.

According to NASA data, this year is tied with 2007 for the second lowest ice extent ever recorded. The worst year was 2012, when ice fell to less than 2.6 million square kilometers. Researchers at the European Space Agency warned that the current rate of carbon emissions meant we could see an ice-free Arctic in only a few decades.

This video shows the evolution of the Arctic pack ice from 1979 to 2016:

Field describes the polar ice as the Earth's heat shield. The oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic plays the most important role in the reflection of sunlight, but it is also the one that thaws the fastest. About 95% of this shiny sea ice, which is several years old, has disappeared in 2018. Many methods have been developed to stem the steady flow of heat.

A method only intended to restore Arctic sea ice 

Geoengineering strategies range from developing facilities that suck carbon dioxide from the air into the deliberate injection of reflective chemicals into the atmosphere to return more sunlight into space. Field and her team described Ice911's technology as reversible and localized geoengineering in their 2018 article, but pointed out that spheres are different from what is now called geoengineering.

Instead, Ice911's microspheres "are working to rebuild something that until recently was already there, not driving the climate on a new path ". In addition, because pearls are made from a material that is ubiquitous in the environment, Field explains that she sees a defensible distinction between her organization's approach and efforts to, for example, inject chemicals into the environment. 'atmosphere.

An article in Nature in 2018 reported that the geoengineering of Arctic and Antarctic glaciers could save us crucial time to combat climate change. But Field quickly noticed that Ice911's work should not be considered a sufficient solution in itself. " I do not want this to be an excuse for the coal mines, I do not want people to say," We have nothing to change, the engineers will fix it, "  she says.


Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Munich Oktoberfest emits higher methane flow than Boston

Oktoberfest, the famous German "beer festival", is known for both its scale and its overconsumption of drinks (including plenty of beer) and food. More than 6 million visitors come to Munich each year for more than two weeks of festivities. During this period, they consume on average 250'000 pork sausages, half a million chickens and 7 million liters of beer (against only 1.1 million liters of water and lemonade). But what about the emissions that result from such a big event? Researchers provide an initial answer in what is the first study dealing with methane emissions produced as part of a major festival.

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To determine the amount of methane produced by the largest carnival in the world, researchers from the Technical University of Munich spent several days sampling the air around the festival, in 2018. The organizers banned them from using their instruments inside the perimeter for safety reasons, they had to perform a series of measurements around the area.

When they collected the data and took into account the speed and direction of the wind, they estimated that the festival generated 1500 kilograms of methane, one of the main greenhouse gases.

Oktoberfest standard perimeter (yellow), including the locations of the 16 large tents (red) and the center point (green). Credits: Google, DigitalGlobe / Technical University of Munich

On average, 6.7 micrograms of methane were emitted per square meter, every second, which represents a flux 10 times higher than that of the city of Boston (United States). The researchers report these figures and this comparison in their published document (in pre-print) in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics , where it is currently being revised.

According to the researchers, this amount of methane can not be explained simply by visitors' natural emissions (respiration, flatulence), but it is much more likely to come from gas cooking and heating appliances, mainly located in large cities. tents.

The results can help develop policies and measures to reduce CH 4 emissions at festivals and other major events in cities.

In addition, events of limited duration have not yet been included in the most recent emission inventories, such as TNO-MACC, EDGAR or IER, but surveys show that these figures are not negligible. Therefore, these events should be included in future emissions inventories.


Friday, 25 October 2019

Earthquakes can be predicted five days in advance

Earthquake Prediction

An international team of geologists and geophysicists found that in the face of an impending earthquake, the parameters of the internal gravitational waves, which oscillate in the stratified layers of the atmosphere, change five days before a seismic event.

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This data can help experts develop short-term earthquake prediction methods, just as today with storms.

At present it is possible to predict seismic disasters ranging from tens of years to months - however, it is still impossible to determine the exact time of the event. More accurate and reliable short-term predictions are needed so that people can be evacuated from the seismic impact zone.

In search of this instrument, geologists have recorded several anomalies and manifestations of geophysical processes in seismically active regions. The list of earthquake precursors is constantly updated, and the more earthquake data, the more accurate a prediction.

Internal Gravity Waves

In search of new earthquake precursors, Vitalii Adushkin and his colleagues processed satellite data extracted from earthquakes that occurred in three seismically active regions: Uzbekistan on May 26, 2013; in Kyrgyzstan on January 8, 2007; and in Kazakhstan on January 28, 2013.

It happens that, five days before the seismic disaster, in the three cases the parameters of the internal gravity waves changed - internal wave is the fluctuation of air masses which, unlike sound waves, also has a transverse component, as occurs with longitudinal waves.

The data showed that the temperature of the intermediate atmosphere (the Earth's atmosphere layer that includes the stratosphere and the mesosphere) varies over time in a characteristic manner and that the wavelengths of the internal gravity waves were 14.2 km in length. stratosphere and 18.9 km in the mesosphere.

"This means that processes occur in the Earth's lithosphere, whose development generates convective instability in the lower atmosphere. They are the cause of internal gravity waves in seismically active regions. Internal gravity waves, when they reach the mesosphere, can be destroyed. When this happens, the energy of these waves turns into thermal motion, which affects temperature, "explains Sergey Popel of the Space Research Institute in Russia.

Most importantly for the development of an indicator, the researchers found that the wavelength begins to grow 4-5 days before the event, peaking two days before the earthquake, and then sharply decreasing the day before the earthquake. .

This data can now be used to identify internal gravity waves in seismically active regions and eventually to make short-term predictions of the timing of the onset of future seismic events.


Article: Variations of the Parameters of Internal Gravity Waves in the Atmosphere of Central Asia before Earthquakes

Author: Vitalii V. Adushkin, VI Nifadiev, BB Chen, SI Popel, GA kogai, A. Yu. Dubinskii, PG Weidler

Magazine: Doklady Earth Sciences

Vol .: 487, Issue 1, pp 841-845

DOI: 10.1134 / S1028334X19070201

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Thursday, 24 October 2019

The melting of the Arctic revealed 5 new islands that we did not know before ...

During an expedition to the archipelago François-Joseph (located in the extreme north of Russia), five new islands that we did not know before were discovered in New Zembla. Why are we discovering these islands now? Simply because of global warming, which melts glaciers and thus reveals lands so far covered with ice ...

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It was during a press conference marking the completion of a naval expedition that went to the far north, to François-Joseph Land (a group of islands in the far north). from Russia, which lies in the Barents Sea, north of New Zent and east of Svalbard) that the discovery of these islands was made public. Covered with ice, they total 16,134 square kilometers and are uninhabited.

At present, Vice Admiral Alexander Moiseyev of the Russian fleet explained that new islands had been revealed by the melting of glaciers in this region. " This is mainly due to changes in the ice situation ," Moiseyev said. " We thought they were part of the main glacier [called Vylki, aka Nansen]. The melting, the collapse and the changes of temperature led to the discovery of these islands, "he added.

The discovery was announced for the very first time by the Russian Ministry of Defense last August. However, in reality, this discovery dates back to 2016, when the student engineer Marina Migunova observed unknown land masses on satellite images, while she was working on a research paper.

This image of NASA shows the archipelago François-Joseph. The Russian army has announced that five new islands have been discovered in the area after the melting of the Nansen Glacier. Credits: NASA / Gsfc / Meti / ERSDAC / Jaros & US / Japan Aster Science Team

During the new expedition, marine researchers studied the topography of the five islands located in Vize Bay on Severny Island in New Zent and emerged from their ice sheets by 2014.

In size, these islands range from very small to very large: indeed, two of them have a very small area (the smallest is only 30 meters by 30 meters), but the largest is large and covers a region approximately 54,500 square meters.

With regard to the long-term stability of newly emerging emerging masses, it is still too early to say. Why ? Simply because the retreat of the glaciers destabilizes the lands below, which lose a layer of fortifying ice.

" Today it is difficult to draw conclusions as to their importance and their life span ," Russian captain Alexei Kornis, head of the Northern Fleet Hydrographic Service, said, pointing out that a glaciologist who had Part of the expedition had suggested that these islands might well have a lifespan of a decade (or even less) only.

Despite the fact that these new lands have only been exposed in the open for a few years, life forms have already colonized them. Kornis stated that he had observed algae, plants and birds, as well as traces of larger animals in these emerging ecosystems. " We found the remains of a seal killed by a bear. So if all of this succeeds in taking root, the islands will survive, "said Kornis.

In any case, what is certain is that while the planet is warming more and more because of climate change, these five islands are just one of the first transformations that will undergo the surface of the Earth.

This new Russian naval expedition has not only confirmed the discovery of five new islands ... During the voyage, a sixth previously unknown land mass was also discovered, located in a newly formed strait in the archipelago François-Joseph. Previously, this island had been confused with an existing peninsula.

The Russian Navy claims that these new lands are not the only ones and join a list of at least a dozen new islands that have appeared in the Arctic region in recent years.

According to the experts, in view of the global situation regarding global warming, we should not be " shocked " by these discoveries: " The discovery of islands while the Nansen glacier retreats is not a surprise, because a glacier is simply a river of ice that carries compacted snow and ice from the highlands to the sea, "said oceanographer Tom Rippeth of Bangor University, Wales.

" As the climate warms, the glaciers shrink and expose the lands below. This is another symptom of the ongoing warming in the Arctic: in this region, the temperature is 5 to 6 degrees Celsius more on average , because of climate change ... ", he added.


Saturday, 19 October 2019

New ants look after plant diseases, says new study

Wood ants, moved from the forest to an apple plantation, have reduced the occurrence of diseases within the plantation. Credits: Jens Henrik Petersen
A new study shows that ants inhibit at least 14 different plant diseases. Indeed, it has been discovered that they secrete antibiotics from their body glands. On their feet and their bodies, ants also harbor colonies of bacteria secreting antibiotics. These substances are thought to be responsible for reducing a number of diseases in plants. Researchers now hope, based on this study, to find biological pesticides capable of overcoming plant-resistant diseases.

Ants live closely together in their anthills and are therefore highly susceptible to the spread of infections. To protect against such risks, they have their own defense systems. On the one hand, they are very hygienic, and on the other hand, they can treat each other with antibiotics produced by their care.

Through the body glands, ants secrete antibiotics, besides the bacterial colonies they grow on their legs and body can also secrete antibiotics.

Previous research had shown that wood ants, moved to an apple plantation, reduced the occurrence of two distinct apple diseases (scab and root rot) in the plantation.

This prompted the scientists involved in this new study to go through the existing literature and look for scientific evidence. Their results finally indicate that ants can inhibit at least 14 plant diseases through their antibiotic secretions. The report was published on the Wiley Online Library Publishing Server.

Ants secrete antibiotics from a number of body glands. In addition, bacteria grow on their feet and their bodies, the latter also secreting antibiotics. Credits: Tinna Christensen

" We do not yet know exactly how ants heal plants, " said Joachim Offenberg, senior scientist at the Department of Bioscience at Aarhus University, Denmark, who led the research.

"On the other hand, we know that ants secrete pheromones on their paths. And we know that some of them [pheromones] have antibiotic properties. The healing effect on plant diseases could be due to these , "says Offenberg.

Researchers believe that ants and their antibiotics may be used in the future to develop biological pesticides. " We hope that more field research will uncover new types of biological agents that can be used in the fight against resistant plant diseases in agriculture, " he adds.

And the idea is not a mere utopia: other researchers have identified ultra-efficient antibiotics secreted by African ants, capable of eradicating MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and others. multidrug-resistant bacteria.


Thursday, 1 August 2019

The origin of the mysterious radioactive cloud that covered Europe in 2017 finally determined

During the year 2017, several measuring stations spread around the world detect a radioactive cloud of ruthenium-106 over Europe. If until now, hypotheses about the Russian origin of this peak of radioactivity had been formulated, there was no evidence to confirm them. This is now done with a new international study pointing the finger at the Russian nuclear complex Mayak.

The radioactivity peak - in the form of an extremely high concentration in the air of ruthenium-106 radioactive isotope - was detected by scientists in October 2017, but the source of this radiation (almost 1000 times higher than normal) had never been definitively confirmed.

At the time, many had speculated that nuclear facilities in Russia were responsible for what was perceived as an accidental release of ruthenium-106, despite the denials of the time by the Russian authorities.

But new research, published in the journal PNAS , aims to confirm and detail the hypothesis of Russian origin, according to an international team of nearly 70 scientists led by Olivier Masson, researcher in radionuclides, the Institute of Radiation Protection and nuclear safety (IRSN) in France.

Massive radioactive release: Russian nuclear plant Mayak

" Based on the dispersion of concentration in the air and chemical considerations, it is possible to assume that the rejection took place in the southern region of the Urals (Russian Federation) " explain the researchers in their new article . Based on what they claim to be the most comprehensive assessment of the incident to date, Masson and his team have analyzed more than 1,300 radioactive cloud measurements, recorded by 176 measurement stations in nearly 30 countries.

Map showing the different radioactivity measurements made by several European stations in 2017. The values ​​are given in mBq · m -3 . Credits: O. Masson et al. 2019

Although the radioactive material released into the air is not harmful to human health, it nevertheless constituted the most serious release of radioactive material since the Fukushima accident in 2011, with maximum values ​​of 176 millibecquerels of isotope per cubic meter of air.

Shortly after the release, Russian officials have hinted that the radioactive peak may have been caused by the crash of a satellite, the isotope being released by the battery of the machine when it enters the Earth's atmosphere. . However, this is not what this new study concludes.

Map showing atmospheric concentrations of ruthenium-106 in Europe. Credits: O. Masson et al. 2019

The measurements indicate the largest single release of radioactivity from a civilian reprocessing plant, " says one of the researchers, radioecologist Georg Steinhauser of the University of Hanover. More specifically, the new evidence - based on the modeling of air mass movements at the time of the accident - indicates that the Mayak Russian nuclear complex in the southern Urals " should be considered a likely candidate for release Conclude the researchers.

Ruthenium-106, cesium-144 and neutrinos

This corresponds exactly to the first suspicions dating back to November 2017, although the Russian nuclear company Rosatom has since insisted that the normal measurements in the ground around the plant show that the Mayak plant could not be responsible for it because the ruthenium-106 concentration would have been thousands of times higher.

The new findings, however, cast doubt on the veracity of these claims, as the team speculated that the accident could have occurred in Mayak, while scientists were trying to produce the cerium-144 isotope for later use. in neutrino experiments at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy, as has already been speculated.

Simulation estimating the half-life of radioruthenium for different types of reactors, based on the ratio 103 Ru / 106 Ru. The results are in agreement with an origin pointing towards the Russian nuclear power station. Credits: O. Masson et al. 2019

We were able to show that the accident occurred during the reprocessing of spent fuel elements, at a very advanced stage, shortly before the end of the treatment chain, " explains Steinhauser. " Even though there is currently no official statement, we have a very good idea of ​​what may have happened ."

A concordant cluster of indices 

If the modeling of the researchers is correct, the accident occurred at the end of September 2017, on the 25th or the 26th of the month, almost exactly 60 years after one of the worst nuclear accidents in history on the same site: the disaster of Kyshtym, ranked as the third most serious nuclear accident in the history of international nuclear events.

Although there is no evidence in the new research to definitively prove that an accident at the Mayak site was at the origin of the radioactive plume, there is more evidence to support this.

The neutrino research to be conducted in Italy - called SOX (Short-Range Oscillations with BoronXino) - was canceled only several months after the release of the radioactive cloud at the end of 2017, after the cerium-144 required for the experiments were not obtained. Information about the cancellation of the project explained that " during the purification of the equipment, unexpected problems occurred, resulting in a loss of activity and an increase in the level of impurities ".


Airborne concentrations and chemical considerations of radioactive ruthenium from an undeclared major nuclear release in 2017
O. Masson, G. Steinhauser, D. Zok, O. Saunier, H. Angelov, D. Babić, V. Bečková, J. Bieringer, M. Bruggeman, C. I. Burbidge, S. Conil, A. Dalheimer, L.-E. De Geer, A. de Vismes Ott, K. Eleftheriadis, S. Estier, H. Fischer, M. G. Garavaglia, C. Gasco Leonarte, K. Gorzkiewicz, D. Hainz, I. Hoffman, M. Hýža, K. Isajenko, T. Karhunen, J. Kastlander, C. Katzlberger, R. Kierepko, G.-J. Knetsch, J. Kövendiné Kónyi, M. Lecomte, J. W. Mietelski, P. Min, B. Møller, S. P. Nielsen, J. Nikolic, L. Nikolovska, I. Penev, B. Petrinec, P. P. Povinec, R. Querfeld, O. Raimondi, D. Ransby, W. Ringer, O. Romanenko, R. Rusconi, P. R. J. Saey, V. Samsonov, B. Šilobritienė, E. Simion, C. Söderström, M. Šoštarić, T. Steinkopff, P. Steinmann, I. Sýkora, L. Tabachnyi, D. Todorovic, E. Tomankiewicz, J. Tschiersch, R. Tsibranski, M. Tzortzis, K. Ungar, A. Vidic, A. Weller, H. Wershofen, P. Zagyvai, T. Zalewska, D. Zapata García, and B. Zorko

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Adding one billion hectares of forest could help control global warming

Areas that could potentially host new forests. The map excludes existing forests, urban areas and farmland. | J. Bastin, and. al / Science

If current trends continue, by 2030, global temperatures could rise by more than 1.5 ° C compared to industrial levels. A potential solution: trees, many trees. Indeed, if they were planted in large numbers and around the world, they could help stop the climate crisis. According to a new analysis, the addition of nearly one billion hectares of additional forest could eliminate two-thirds of the 300 gigatonnes of CO2 emitted by humans in the atmosphere in just two centuries.

The latest report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommended adding one billion hectares of forests to help limit global warming to 1.5 ° C by 2050. Environmentalists Jean-François Bastin and Tom Crowther of the Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich) and their co-authors wanted to know if the planet as it is today could support so many extra trees. Their study was also to determine the ideal areas to plant them.

Forests are one of our key natural allies against climate change, " says Laura Duncanson, a carbon storage researcher at the University of Maryland College Park and NASA, who was not involved in the research. . Nevertheless, " it is a simplified analysis of carbon recovery that forests could recover, so we should not consider this a miracle solution, " she warned.

The researchers analyzed nearly 80,000 satellite photographs to determine the current forest cover. They then ranked the different areas of the planet according to 10 characteristics of the soil and the climate. This allowed to identify locations more or less adapted to different types of forests. After subtracting existing forests and areas dominated by agriculture or cities, they calculated the amount of land suitable for growing trees.

The Earth could naturally support 0.9 billion hectares of additional forest - which is an area the size of the United States - without encroaching on existing urban or agricultural land, researchers report to Sciencemag . These added trees could sequester 205 gigatonnes of carbon in the coming decades, about five times the global amount released in 2018.

" This work reflects the magnitude of what forests can do for us, " says environmentalist Greg Asner of Arizona State University in Tempe, who was not involved in the study. " They will have to play a role if humanity is to achieve its climate change mitigation goals ."

Moreover, it should be noted that the addition of forests would not only sequester carbon. Forests offer a host of additional benefits, including improved biodiversity, improved water quality and reduced erosion. According to estimates, the cost of forest restoration at this scale would vary, but based on prices of about 0.27 Euro per tree, Tom Crowther estimates that it could amount to about 270 billion Euros.

The exact amount of carbon that future forests may store may not be very clear, but NASA has sent new instruments into space, such as Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) aboard the International Space Station. , which will use lasers to create high resolution 3D maps of forests and canopy. These data will add essential precision to existing estimates of surface carbon storage.

" With GEDI, we can consider this study as a stepping stone and complement it with much more accurate carbon estimates ," says Duncanson. " There has always been great uncertainty about large-scale carbon totals, but we will soon have richer and more accurate data."


Monday, 1 July 2019

Discovered factors for the propulsion of microrobots

TEM image of hollow silica microcapsules / IBEC 

A study led by researchers from the Institute of Bioengineering of Catalonia opens the door to the mobility of new microscopic objects using a whole library of enzymes. According to experts, these micro-robots can be used in the near future for environmental and biomedical purposes.

Ingesting a pill to cure a serious illness, or adding a pinch of a synthetic powder to make water drinkable, seemed like science fiction concepts until only a few generations ago. However, the emergence of new disciplines such as bioengineering, is raising the level of sophistication and specialization of new materials to unsuspected limits.

An example of this is the group of Intelligent Nanobio Devices led by Samuel Sánchez, ICREA researcher at the Institute of Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC).

After years developing devices of the size of one thousandth of the thickness of a hair for technological and biomedical applications, Sánchez's group, in multidisciplinary collaboration with a team of computational chemistry, has taken a significant new leap in their research: understanding the processes molecular level that allow so-called micromotors to propel themselves into a liquid.

In the study, which is published in the journal Nature Communications , Sánchez and his colleagues describe what until now was a mystery for the scientific community: how was it possible that enzymes, which are catalytic machines in the nanoscale, could propel particles huge in relation to them?

And, while most of the research groups focused their efforts on equipping microrobots with propellants based on an enzyme called urease, IBEC researchers have managed to adhere and test the mobility of these microscopic objects with a whole new series of enzymes.

Xavier Arqué, a PhD student at the IBEC and first author of the study, states: "The secret of the mobility of these micro-robots lies in the properties of the enzymes themselves."

A new door towards self-propelled microrobots

While enzymes such as urease and acetylcholinesterase could change their internal structure, this process being related to a higher reaction rate (known as conformation in scientific terminology), and generating the propulsion of micromotors, other more rigid enzymes with lower speed of reaction were not able to generate such mobility.

In the words of Sánchez himself: "This is the first time that we can predict if an enzyme is going to be useful for propelling microscopic objects."

To carry out their discovery, the researchers combined the most advanced techniques of computer simulation with experimental techniques, thanks to the collaboration with the group of Sílvia Osuna, ICREA professor at the University of Girona.

This discovery opens the door to a whole new series of self-propelled micro-robots with applications in medicine, water treatment and biotechnology.

Bibliographic reference:

 Reference article: Xavier Arqué , Adrian Romero-Rivera , Ferran Feixas , Tania Patiño , Sílvia Osuna & Samuel Sánchez (2019)
" Intrinsic enzymatic properties modulate the self-propulsion of micromotors "
 Nature Communications 10, 2826.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Climate change eats the glaciers of the Himalayas

Changri Nup, a glacier covered with debris in the Everest region

Since 2000 the glaciers of the Himalayas have lost almost half a meter of ice a year, twice as much as in the period from 1975 to 2000. The study, which has combined the images - now declassified - of a US spy satellite during the Cold War with current images from NASA, indicates that glaciers have lost a quarter of their mass in the last 40 years.

The loss of ice has accelerated since the year 2000 in the glaciers of the Himalayas, mountains considered the "third pole" by holding some 600,000 million tons of ice. Each year about half a meter of ice melts due to the increase in temperatures, which have increased by 1 ° C in some places.

A study, published today in the journal Science Advances , presents this image of the Himalayas after analyzing the changes of the last 40 years in the region thanks to the images obtained by the American spy satellite KH-9 Hexagon , known as Big Bird, made during the Cold War and declassified in 2011; and others, more current, provided by NASA in India, China, Nepal and Bhutan.

"This is the clearest picture to date of how quickly the glaciers in the Himalayas are melting in this time frame, and for what reasons," says Joshua Maurer , first author of the work and researcher at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. of the Columbia University (EE UU).

The team of scientists analyzed 650 Himalayan glaciers , which represent 55% of the total ice volume of the region, in an area of ​​2,000 kilometers from west to east, and estimated that, of the mass of total ice present in the area in 1975, 87% remained in 2000 and 72% in 2016. That is to say, that the glaciers of the Himalayas would have lost a quarter of their mass in the last four decades.

The results were obtained thanks to the creation of an automated system that converted the images of the spy tape into 3D models . These showed altitude alterations over time. The data was then compared to images obtained from 2000 on more sophisticated satellites, which directly transmit changes in altitude.

Image obtained by a US spy satellite on the Khumbu region from the declassified program HEXAGON KH-9. This is what the glaciers surrounding Everest looked like in 1976.

The consequences of thawing

According to the study, from 1975 to 2000, glaciers in the region lost an average of about 25 cm of ice per year due to a slight rise in temperatures. The trend intensified in the 1990s until, in the 2000s, the loss of ice accelerated and reached 50 cm per year .

The melting of recent years would represent an annual loss of 8,000 million tons of water, the equivalent of 3.2 million Olympic swimming pools. But the glaciers do not melt evenly. The scientists observed that the melting occurs mainly at lower altitudes , where in some areas up to five meters of ice loss per year have been recorded.

The meltdown could affect some 800 million people, who depend on seasonal runoff for irrigation, hydropower and drinking water. Currently, significant runoff is occurring, but as the glaciers lose mass it will be reduced in the coming decades. This will cause shortage of water.

In addition to the increase in temperatures, the work suggests that changes in precipitation , which decreases in some areas and increases in others, could be influencing the area.

The scientists add another factor: the increasing burning, by Asian countries, of fossil fuels and biomass that send soot into the atmosphere. Much of this ash lands on snowy glacial surfaces, where it absorbs solar energy and accelerates thawing.


 JM Maurer et al.
"Acceleration of ice loss across the Himalayas over the past 40 years"
Science Advances June 19, 2019