This is the Week This Friday! 6 quick-and-smart briefs about happenings in the environmental space!
Eastern Tropical Pacific Coral Reefs Adapting to Heat Stress
Source: Yale Environment 360
Coral reefs have been gravely affected by the impacts of climate changes such as rising temperatures, sea levels and ocean acidification. However, El Niño events also impact coral reefs as they bring bands of warm ocean water. These underwater rainforests have provided habitat for an abundance of life but have been devastated in recent years, globally. A recent study in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) region showed that reefs in that area have been an exception to the negative environmental impacts of El Niño events. These reefs show signs that they have adapted to heat stress and can potentially help scientists get insights into their survival which can help reefs in other parts of the world when the El Niño events impact them. A glimmer of hope exists for these ecosystems.
Usually, with increased sea temperatures, corals get bleached and die as the excessively high temperatures kill the symbiotic algae within them. From the study, it was seen that El Niño induced bleaching events like this usually resulted in large amounts of coral losses. However, reefs within the ETP region recovered within 10-15 years. It was found that this was due to corals in the region having high production rates, contain high heat tolerant symbiotic algae, are influenced by geography and weather, are accustomed to heat stress over the years and they pass on survival traits to new coral. These reefs thrive due to their ability to regrow and recover post-stressful periods. This finding can help scientists engage in more research and decision making processes to help save coral reefs globally.
Have you ever wondered what Mars sounds like? We may be able to find out
Source: NASA Science Mars
On July 30th 2020, NASA launched its Perseverance robot on a mission to find life on Mars. Perseverance is the third mission launched to Mars inside 11 days, after launches by UAE and China. The one-tonne, six-wheeled, car-size rover will travel more than 300 miles on a path to reach the Red Planet in February of 2021.
When it lands, the robot will gather rock and soil samples to be sent home later in the decade.
The rover’s destination is a crater known as Jezero, which was once a lake in the northern hemisphere of Mars. Scientists believe that this location is could show signs of ancient Martian life (if any ever existed). The Perseverance rover is similar to NASA’s previous Mars rover, Curiosity, which landed in 2012. Curiosity was designed to look for habitable environments, and it found signs of a freshwater lake. Perseverance is going a step farther in search of evidence of past life that might have lived in the lake at Jezero. Jezero would be a prime place to search for signs of life on Mars because of its history as a possible water source. Jezero was filled with water about 3.5 billion years ago - when Mars was warmer and wetter. From orbit, an earlier NASA spacecraft spotted a dried-up river on one side of Jezero and an outflow channel which can be seen on the other side. Scientists believe that if anything ever lived on Mars, Jezero is the place to look. Perseverance is on a mission to see if this belief is true.
Additionally, Perseverance is carrying some pretty cool devices - several cameras which will record various views; and two microphones, which will be the first to ever record sounds on another planet. All that and a helicopter. Yup, a helicopter called Ingenuity. The four-pound Marscopter is a technology experiment, and if it works, it will be the first powered flight on another planet. This is one giant leap for discovering more about the Red Planet.
Click here and scroll down to read more about how the mission will help future astronauts.
Microplastics go Nano – study finds small crustacean that can fragment microplastics
Source: Alicia Mateos-Cardenas
A new study at the University of College Cork (UCC) in Ireland found that small crustaceans can fragment microplastics into pieces smaller than a cell within 96 hours. Until now, plastic fragmentation has been mainly attributed to sunlight and wave action which can take years and even decades. Scientists at UCC were studying the 2cm-long amphipod ‘ Gammarus duebeni’ and found that microplastic beads were not only injected but also fragmented extremely quickly into nanoplastics. These extremely small fragments are tiny enough to pass through cell membranes which is thought to be potentially more damaging to wildlife than microplastics of up to 5mm in size.
Dr. Alicia Mateos-Cardenas, the lead author of the study, used spherical microbes of polyethylene, a common polymer found in plastic bottles. Each microbead was tagged with fluorescent dye so injection and fragmentation could be tracked under a microscope. The study showed that these microbeads were broken down by the crustaceans into nanoplastics that measured less than one-thousandth of a millimetre - a measure undetectable to the human eye. This means that nanoplastics could accumulate further up the food chain as predators like birds and fish eat these crustaceans, so far up the food chain that it could potentially include humans.
The study found that the amphipods inject the plastics and grind them with their mandibles as they eat them and pass them through their digestive system. The research has wide implications because this crustacean is one of more than 200 Gammarus species found globally in rivers and oceans. Mateos-Cardenas explains that "This definitely adds an extra layer to our understanding of the fate of plastics in the environment, … "If animals are ingesting and fragmenting [plastics], the problem is amplified”.
If you’re thinking to yourself that plastics are taking over the world, you might just be right. However, on the bright side, last week scientists at Andong National University found a beetle larva that breaks down polystyrene. Read more about the story in last week’s TWTF.
RBC ramps up ESG initiatives – investing in a greener future
RBC announced its updated roster of partners for its RBC Tech for Nature program. RBC Tech for Nature is empowered by a commitment from the RBC Foundation to support new ideas, tech and partnerships. Tech for Nature is focused on preserving the planet’s greatest asset: our natural ecosystem. The program was launched in late 2019, inviting environment and community-focused organization to submit an application to join the ongoing commitment to advancing sustainability through tech-driven solutions.
The updated roster includes a diverse set of organizations: The Canadian Red Cross, Earth Rangers, Swim Drink Fish, Second Harvest, Thames 21, Energy Futures Lab, and SIKU.
To dive in, Swim Drink Fish is an organization that envisions the world with swimmable, drinkable, fishable water for everyone, while Second Harvest is an innovative online platform that connects food businesses with surplus food to local service agencies to supply hunger relief/meal programs.
RBC’s approach is based on the belief that innovative usage of data and tech can fundamentally improve the world we live in. Tech for Nature brings together charitable organizations, technology experts, the public and private sector as well as RBC’s own unique capabilities to form coalitions needed to work towards solving the world’s environmental challenges. Vice-President of Corporate Citizenship of RBC and Executive Chair of the RBC foundation explained that “At RBC, we believe climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. That's why we continue to invest in a diverse set of partners and technologies solving environmental challenges – and support innovative ideas that move us towards a sustainable economy."
Another example of a huge institution taking a step in the right direction.
These days, it feels like everyone loves to be a contrarian when it comes to climate change. While it’s important to give different opinions a platform to speak, it’s equally important as journalists to be weary of the crave for clicks and reads outweighing actual science.
According to the Independent, a new study announced that this isn’t always the case when covering climate change news. In fact, the study suggested that climate change deniers receive twice as much media coverage than pro-climate messengers.
The report looked at over 1,700 climate-related stories published over a 30-year period (1985 to 2012) which circulated the largest newspapers in the United States. Researchers found that 14 percent of press releases opposing climate change were “more likely to grab headlines compared to roughly 7 percent of those in support of climate action.”
Researchers also suggested this study reflects a general attitude in America to show less concern for the climate compared to other countries around the world. Moreover, opinions of “big businesses” were more likely to receive coverage and thus “were given outsize opportunity to sway this debate.”
Some media have a fundamental bias towards sensationalism and controversy. Sometimes more so than they are drawn to the truth- hey, it’s good for ratings. All this matters because how we choose to talk about global problems and injustices can create damaging consequences on civility and public discourse.
Catering toward climate deniers for good ratings is not doing any justice for the climate movement.
Do Plastics Bag Fees Work?
Source: One Green Planet
Plastic bag fees are a policy that many stores around the world have been introducing in an effort to curb the use of single-use plastics. Often the fee is quite low (think cents), and I myself have often wondered about the efficacy of these fees as the penalty of a few cents doesn’t seem like a huge deterrent. Well, as reported by The Guardian there has been a 95% decrease in sales of single-use plastic bags in England since they implemented a bag fee of 5p ($0.09 for us Canadians).
The downward trend of purchasing single-use plastic bags is being observed on a yearly basis, with a decrease of 59% in sales since last year. The average person now buys 4 plastic bags per year, down from 140 bags in 2014. That’s some really great progress!
It appears as though the plastic bag fees are working extremely well, but have we been saving the environment? A political campaigner from Greenpeace, Sam Chetan Welsh states that while plastic bags purchases have dropped, bags for life (think the cotton totes you can buy instead) sales have risen to 1.5 billion. These bags have their own environmental impacts and according to Mr. Welsh, contain more plastic than regular bags. He states that the cost of these bags needs to be increased in order to promote their continual reuse.
So it sounds like we’ve made some great progress bringing our own bags, but we really need to keep reusing them as many times as we possibly can!
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