Own the conversation this weekend with The WTF, a top-6 collection of the current and topical environmental news briefs, delivered with a side of humour.

The WTF: TheWeek This Friday Vol. 44

This is the Week This Friday! 6 quick-and-smart briefs about happenings in the environmental space.

New Google Earth Timelapse Feature Shows a Changing Planet 

Snapshots of Google’s Timelapse video – Greenland 1986 – 2020 // Source: Google 

Google has drawn on satellite images dating back to the 1980s to introduce a time-lapse feature called “Timelapse” that lets users explore the world through the decades. To create the feature, Google worked with NASA, the United States Geological Survey’s Landsat program, the European Union’s Copernicus program and its Sentinel satellites, and Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab, to help develop the technology. Timelapse takes static imagery and turns it into a 4D experience, allowing users to click through time-lapses around the world. The plan is to keep updating these images, with even newer images, aimed at showing the progression of our planet. 

Google says it hopes the feature will help to visualize the impacts of climate change, as well as other ways humans are directly altering the planet. Timelapse can show us things like the decline of ice in the Ross Ice Shelf of Antarctica, to deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest of Brazil, or the urbanization of Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. The tech giant also says that it hopes governments, researchers, journalists, teachers and advocates will analyze the imagery, identify trends and share their findings with the public. Google is giving science a visual voice. “Visual evidence can cut to the core of the debate in a way that words cannot and communicate complex issues to everyone,” said Rebecca Moore, a director of Google Earth, in a blog post. Click here to watch a video Google put together about what time Timelapse can do, and how you can use it. 

Using TikTok to Raise Awareness and Advocate for Environmental Justice

Source: CTV News

Indigenous photographer and filmmaker, Morgan Tsetta, is using the app TikTok to shine a light on environmental hazards that the former Giant Mine project has left behind, of which communities in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, continue to suffer from.

Tsetta is a Yellowknives Dene First Nation and wanted to raise awareness about the toxic aftermath of the Giant Mine project because many Canadians have not heard of the issue before. “It’s not surprising that it’s not known or talked about. There is a certain degree of coverup that is prevalent in the history of Giant Mine,” Tsetta said.

Giant Mine is a former gold mine site and one of Canada’s most contaminated sites today. 237,000 tonnes of toxic (and in many cases, fatal) arsenic trioxide is contained here. Not only was the land lost to the Yellowknives Dene nation, but there have been prolonging damages and negative health impacts inflicted upon the communities from the aftermath. For more information on the history of the Giant Mine issue, read this article.

Tsetta initially started making these videos when TikTok blew up as a popular platform during the pandemic. She has been posting videos about the mine project, pressuring the federal government to apologize and compensate for the chronic damages. The Yellowknives Dene had a petition to gain a seat at the Giant Mine Remediation Project – an initiative that aims to address the toxic waste and remedy the area. After Tsetta posted her videos educating others about the project, the petition gained thousands of signatures, and closed with more than 32,000.

It’s encouraging to see TikTok being used as an effective tool for communicating and spreading awareness of environmental issues to gain support. Tsetta says she will continue using the app to update her followers about the process with the remediation of the area. To watch her videos, you can find her on TikTok at: @porterfieldlol.

Are Conservationists A Problem?

Source: Unsplash

Are conservationists accidently killing endangered species by spreading diseases? In short, yes. While it is all done with love and good intentions, many diseases and parasites are spreading through their efforts of relocation.

This was seen with a population of mussels, which serve an important purpose of cleaning water bodies and play a key role in the food web. Joshua Brian from the Department of Zoology at University of Cambridge stated, “moving animals could introduce a disease to a new region, or expose the individuals being moved to a disease that they haven’t encountered before.”

He also stated, “People move mussels and other animals around all the time, and they almost never stop to think about parasites or diseases first.” There was an example from Yellowstone National Park where wolves died after pathogen exposure from their canine relatives.

Many of the threats are often invisible to the human eye such as viruses, bacteria, worms, ticks – but can have deadly consequences to a species and an ecosystem as a whole.

Fukushima Nuclear Plant Plans to Release Wastewater Into The Ocean

Source: Unsplash

One million tonnes of contaminated water from the Fukushima nuclear plant is to be released into the oceans. That is enough water to fill more than 500 Olympic-sized pools. The reactor buildings were damaged through a hydrogen explosion in 2011 when Japan was struck with an earthquake and tsunami. Three cooling systems of the reactors melted down, with over a million tonnes of water used to cool down the melted reactors. The plan to release the water is set to begin in about two years.

This doesn’t come without opposition, the decision and approval came after many years of debate. The locals in the fishing industry stand very strongly against the decision, as do China and South Korea. The water is to be treated and diluted so the radiation levels would be below the set amount for drinking water. While most of the radioactive parts can be removed, some can’t – such as tritium, which is harmful to humans in large doses with a halflife of approximately 12 years.

Greenpeace has been opposing this for a long time, and stated that Japan’s government is in the wrong and “once again failed the people of Fukushima”. The fishing industry also worries that people may be afraid consumers will not buy fish from the area, from the threat of tritium being ingested and moving up the food chain through the consumption of seafood. The US stands with Japan on the decision, and Japan states that this process is safe and has got the approval of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which their Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi states, “Releasing into the ocean is done elsewhere. It’s not something new. There is no scandal here.”

Jargon-Heavy Scientific Literature is Not as Smart as it Seems

Source: Unsplash

A large portion of the scientific literature out there is filled with technical terms and special terminology that make the information tricky to nearly impossible to understand unless you are well-versed in the given field of research. Just ask any university student – reading academic articles can sometimes seem like you’re reading another language, and they’re not easy to get through even when you do understand most of the terminology!

A new study has found that scientific literature that is filled with jargon is less likely to be cited by other scientists. Basically, if a scientific paper is hard to read, it won’t be read nearly as much.

Co-authors Alejandro Martinez and Stefano Mammola reviewed over 20,000 academic papers on the particular topic of cave science. They found that the authors who leaned heavily on scientific jargon in the titles and abstract (summary) of their paper were less likely to be cited by other scientists. In other words, people weren’t using their research as much as the studies written in more widely understandable language.

The authors explain that, in cave research, scientists use specialized terminology from a range of disciplines, depending on their own scientific background. For example, a zoologist may refer to a white blind salamander as a “neotenic metazoan with anophthalmia”, and a geologist is likely to define marble as a “metamorphic rock produced by the recrystallization of calcite or dolomite”. “In order to capture these meanings, you have to share the background [of] the person who’s using the jargon,” Martinez said. 

Even within scientific circles, definitions of technical terms are not always agreed upon, so the meanings of words can easily be misunderstood. The authors state that jargon definitely makes an author sound like an intelligent expert in their field, but… in the grand scheme of things, it’s far more important to actually have your research read and understood by others, and accessible for other scientists to use. 

The takeaway? Don’t make your readers dissect and translate your science, especially if the research is important for other disciplines or the greater public. Keep your audience by writing more plainly.

Carbon Tracking Satellite Network to Launch in the 2020s 

Rendering of one of the satellites // Source: Carbon Mapper 

A consortium led by the State of California and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced that they are planning on releasing a constellation of satellites that will circle the globe in an effort to try and pin-point the very specific releases of climate-changing gases (carbon dioxide and methane). As global warming continues to ramp up, there is an urgent need to deploy technologies that can efficiently and accurately measure greenhouse gas emissions. If we can measure it, maybe we can manage it. 

The constellation is one element of Carbon Mapper, a public-private partnership aimed at providing information to help limit greenhouse gas emissions. The first two prototypes will launch in 2023 and are designed to detect 80% of the largest global methane sources, as well as the major carbon dioxide emitters. The rest of the constellation of 20 or so spacecraft going up from 2025 with the objective of providing frequent observation of greenhouse gas sources. The goal of this initiative is to heighten public awareness and understanding of greenhouse gas emissions. Click here to watch an introductory video about Carbon Mapper, their mission and vision for the future. 

Siobhan Mullally is studying in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability (SERS) at the University of Waterloo while also minoring in English Language and Literature. As a budding ecologist, researcher, and writer, she is interested in exploring the intersections between environment and communication to inspire climate action. In her free time, she enjoys spending time in nature and getting lost in her favourite novels.

Greta Vaivadaite is a Journalist, Online Editorial and Social Media Coordinator at Alternatives Media. Greta has completed her undergraduate studies at York University in Environmental Management, and completed her Masters of Environment and Sustainability at Western University in 2020. Her professional interests lay in advocating for environmental education, sustainable fashion, and a greener travel industry. 

Teo Guzu is a Master’s in Environment and Sustainability student with a focus on policy and research. Her background is in the field of Sociology and Global Development Studies where she developed an interest in how climate change disproportionately affects different communities. Her interests lie in plastics and waste management, conservation, and clean technology. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family/friends and her dog Charlie, reading, writing, and watching docu-series on various topics.