Environment

You may not know it but on our biosphere - Earth - there is also a relatively unknown world hiding in plain sight. It is composed of microbes that live on floating pieces of plastic floating on the ocean. 

This "Plastisphere" of microbial organisms living on ocean plastic that was first discovered last year and it is now getting studied.


In 2011, a tsunami hit Japan. While the damage to a nuclear power plant got all of the media attention, with activists claiming mutant pregnancies in California a short while later, the environmental damage caused by the tsunami itself should be more of a concern.

The amount of debris in the ocean is growing exponentially and the driftage generated by the 2011 tsunami gave scientists Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner a unique chance to learn about the effects of the ocean and wind on floating materials as they move across the North Pacific Ocean. 


As scientists try to forecast the effects of climate change, one of the missing pieces of the puzzle is what will happen to the carbon in the soil and the microbes too.

Scientists studying grasslands in Oklahoma have discovered that an increase of 2 degrees Celsius in the air temperature above the soil creates significant changes to the microbial ecosystem underground. Compared to a control group with no warming, plants in the warmer plots grew faster and higher, which put more carbon into the soil as the plants senesce. The microbial ecosystem responded by altering its DNA to enhance the ability to handle the excess carbon.


Waste treatment facilities in the United States process more than 8,000,000 tons of biosolids - semi-solid sewage - about half of which is recycled into fertilizer and spread on crop land and which helps solve storage issues and produces revenue to support the treatment plants.

But what else is being spread in that sludge? As industry invents new materials and chemicals for modern products, many find their way to our skin and bloodstream and, subsequently, into our sinks and toilet bowls. More than 500 different organic chemicals have been identified in the biosolids used as fertilizer across the United States. 


Conversion landscapes to cement-dominated urban centers would seem to cause great losses in biodiversity, yet nature i heartier than you might think. According to a new study involving 147 cities worldwide, surprisingly high numbers of plant and animal species persist and even flourish in urban environments, to the tune of hundreds of bird species and thousands of plant species in a single city.


Cool roofs, green roofs and hybrids of the two are all of the rage for city planners who want to do something about greenhouse-gas induced warming.

They sound great but is it going to work, or is it another idealized wish that incurs cost but has little benefit (like replacing spoons in the Congressional cafeteria with corn-based alternatives that melted in soup and ending up being worse for the environment) outside public relations campaigns?
 


50,000 years ago, the Arctic tundra was not as drab as you might think, being an Ice Age - it was filled with colorful wildflowers and these wildflowers helped sustain woolly mammoths and other giant grazing animals, according to a new paper. The study challenges the view that the arctic landscape in the ice age was largely grasslands. 

The study looked at 50,000 years of arctic vegetation history to understand how fauna had changed with animals and humans. Historically, the belief has been that the ice age's landscape was covered by largely grass-dominated systems -- called steppe. These grasses were replaced by mosses and other boggy vegetation when the ice age ended nearly 10,000 years ago, Craine said.


For the past eight years, the Amazon rain forest has gotten greener as the weather seemingly got hotter and drier each year from June to October. 

Limited rainfall didn't prevent thriving vegetation, which really put a damper on the simplistic 'turn one climate knob and all of our issues are solved' narrative. 


The increasing use of chemical herbicides, both synthetic and organic kinds, is often blamed for the declining plant biodiversity in farms, but it is simplistic to think herbicide exposure is solely to blame.

The science doesn't add up. If herbicides are a key factor in declining diversity, then thriving species would be more tolerant to widely used herbicides than rare or declining species, according to J. Franklin Egan, research ecologist, USDA-Agricultural Research Service. But that isn't the case.


Compact fluorescent bulbs save energy but they also contain mercury, a toxic metal.

While environmentalists have promoted them as safe, and the US government has given them a de factor mandate and subsidy by banning incandescent bulbs, there are still concerns among the public about the risks of having hazardous materials in their homes.

Mercury lamps, on the other hand, have been around since 1860. They were rarely used in the home, they are a big part of the reason why incandescent bulbs were invented in the first place, because they made human skin look 'green' and the risks in an enclosed space were too high but are more common in street lamps, because they have long life.