North Atlantic’s capacity to absorb CO2 overestimated, study suggests

North Atlantic’s capacity to absorb CO2 overestimated, study suggests

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: April 3, 2020 SNIP: The North Atlantic may be a weaker climate ally than previously believed, according to a study that suggests the ocean’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide has been overestimated. A first-ever winter and spring sampling of plankton in the western North Atlantic showed cell sizes were considerably smaller than scientists assumed, which means the carbon they absorb does not sink as deep or as fast, nor does it stay in the depths for as long. This discovery is likely to force a negative revision of global climate calculations, say the authors of the Nasa-backed study, though it is unclear by how much. “We have found a misconception. It will definitely impact the model of carbon flows,” said Oregon State University microbiologist Steve Giovannoni. “It will require more than just a small tweak.” Researchers say the spring phytoplankton bloom in the North Atlantic is probably the largest annual biological carbon sequestration mechanism on the planet. Like a vast forest of tiny plants in the sunlight upper part of the ocean, they draw down carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. The bigger the plankton, the higher the chance they will sink into the deep mesopelagic zone of the ocean, where carbon can be trapped for more than 1,000 years. Until now, climate models have assumed that diatoms – one of the biggest types of plankton – were dominant. But the study, published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology Journal, reveals they are a very minor share of biomass when compared with much smaller cyanobacteria, picophytoeukaryotes and nanophytoeukaryotes. This was expected in winter, but the research...
On Baffin Island in the Fragile Canadian Arctic, an Iron Ore Mine Spews Black Carbon

On Baffin Island in the Fragile Canadian Arctic, an Iron Ore Mine Spews Black Carbon

SOURCE: Inside Climate News DATE: April 2, 2020 SNIP: Even 150 miles away from the Mary River iron mine, Peter Ivalu can’t seem to escape its presence. He’s heard rumors of white foxes turning pink, and caribou, walrus and narwhal disappearing from traditional Inuit hunting grounds. Then last year, he noticed something bizarre at his family campground just south of Igloolik, a hamlet in the far northern Canadian province of Nunavut, where he lives. It was iron dust from the Mary River mine, Ivalu said. “That dust is now everywhere.” Operating since 2015, the mine produces up to 6 million metric tons of iron ore each year that then gets shipped from the frozen coasts of Canada’s Baffin Island, almost 1,400 miles north of Montreal, to parts of Europe and Asia. For a decade, Ivalu and other Inuit community members in the region have fought the mine’s development, worried about what excavating and shipping millions of tons of iron ore each year might do to one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems. Already, the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, melting sea ice at alarming rates, causing mass die-offs of fish and birds and altering wildlife migration habits. Now, Baffinland Iron Mines Corporation, which owns the mine, wants to expand the operation by doubling its output to 12 million metric tons a year, and, starting in 2025, more than doubling that again to 30 million metric tons. That means two to four times as many ships carrying the ore through the icy waters, as well as the construction of a new rail line...
Plastic Wars: Industry Spent Millions Selling Recycling — To Sell More Plastic

Plastic Wars: Industry Spent Millions Selling Recycling — To Sell More Plastic

SOURCE: NPR DATE: March 31, 2020 SNIP: For decades, Americans have been sorting their trash believing that most plastic could be recycled. But the truth is, the vast majority of all plastic produced can’t be or won’t be recycled. In 40 years, less than 10% of plastic has ever been recycled. In a joint investigation, NPR and the PBS series Frontline found that oil and gas companies — the makers of plastic — have known that all along, even as they spent millions of dollars telling the American public the opposite. Starting in the late 1980s, the plastics industry spent tens of millions of dollars promoting recycling through ads, recycling projects and public relations, telling people plastic could be and should be recycled. But their own internal records dating back to the 1970s show that industry officials long knew that recycling plastic on a large scale was unlikely to ever be economically viable. A report sent to top industry executives in April 1973 called recycling plastic “costly” and “difficult.” It called sorting it “infeasible,” saying “there is no recovery from obsolete products.” Another document a year later was candid: There is “serious doubt” widespread plastic recycling “can ever be made viable on an economic basis.” Despite this, three former top officials, who have never spoken publicly before, said the industry promoted recycling as a way to beat back a growing tide of antipathy toward plastic in the 1980s and ’90s. The industry was facing initiatives to ban or curb the use of plastic. Recycling, the former officials told NPR and Frontline, became a way to preempt the bans and...
Border wall construction expands, despite pandemic, imperiling jaguars and other animals

Border wall construction expands, despite pandemic, imperiling jaguars and other animals

SOURCE: National Geographic DATE: March 30, 2020 SNIP: The Sky Island region of southern Arizona and New Mexico is a natural wonderland, one of the most biologically diverse parts of North America, where thousands of animal species live and roam across the U.S.-Mexico border. A patchwork of valleys, hills, and mountain ranges act as corridors to allow creatures such as jaguars, ocelots, black bears, bighorn sheep, and coati to move about the region. Hundreds of species are found here and nowhere else in the U.S., including jaguars, colorful birds called elegant trogons, lowland burrowing tree frogs, and brown vine snakes. But while the nation is focused on fighting the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration is working to expand the border wall through the region, cutting off critical animal migration corridors. The Department of Homeland Security this month paved the way to build more than 175 miles of new walls, much of it in remote, mountainous terrain. To start building the new sections, potentially within weeks or months, the Department granted waivers on March 16 to allow construction crews to not comply with 37 different laws, including the Endangered Species Act. Even as businesses have closed and workers told to stay home, wall construction continues, and review periods for environmentally sensitive projects, including oil leases on federal property, are not being postponed or extended. Besides the newly approved sections, more than 100 miles of wall are actively under construction elsewhere in Arizona, including in natural areas like Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. It’s “an ecological disaster in the making” for jaguars and other species that need to cross the border...
Revealed: Monsanto predicted crop system would damage US farms

Revealed: Monsanto predicted crop system would damage US farms

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: March 30, 2020 SNIP: The US agriculture giant Monsanto and the German chemical giant BASF were aware for years that their plan to introduce a new agricultural seed and chemical system would probably lead to damage on many US farms, internal documents seen by the Guardian show. Risks were downplayed even while they planned how to profit off farmers who would buy Monsanto’s new seeds just to avoid damage, according to documents unearthed during a recent successful $265m lawsuit brought against both firms by a Missouri farmer. The documents, some of which date back more than a decade, also reveal how Monsanto opposed some third-party product testing in order to curtail the generation of data that might have worried regulators. And in some of the internal BASF emails, employees appear to joke about sharing “voodoo science” and hoping to stay “out of jail”. The new crop system developed by Monsanto and BASF was designed to address the fact that millions of acres of US farmland have become overrun with weeds resistant to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkillers, best known as Roundup. The collaboration between the two companies was built around a different herbicide called dicamba. Dicamba has been in use since the 1960s but traditionally was used sparingly, and not on growing crops, because it has a track record of volatilizing – moving far from where it is sprayed – particularly in warm growing months. As it moves it can damage or kill the plants it drifts across. The companies announced in 2011 that they were collaborating in the development of the dicamba-tolerant cropping systems, granting each...
2,000 renewable energy projects shown to have negative biodiversity impact

2,000 renewable energy projects shown to have negative biodiversity impact

SOURCE: Engineering & Technology DATE: March 26, 2020 SNIP: Researchers have claimed that more than 2,000 renewable energy facilities are built in areas of environmental significance and could be negatively impacting local biodiversity. The team from the University of Queensland in Australia have mapped the location of solar, wind and hydropower facilities in wilderness, protected areas and key biodiversity areas. Lead author José Rehbein said he was alarmed by the findings: “Aside from the more than 2,200 renewable energy facilities already operating inside important biodiversity areas, another 900 are currently being built. “Energy facilities and the infrastructure around them, such as roads and increased human activity, can be incredibly damaging to the natural environment. These developments are not compatible with biodiversity conservation efforts.” The majority of renewable energy facilities in western Europe and developed nations are located in biodiverse areas. Rehbein said there is still time for developers to reconsider facilities under construction in Asia and Africa. University of Amsterdam senior author Dr James Allan said effective conservation efforts and a rapid transition to renewable energy was essential to prevent species extinctions and avoid catastrophic climate...