Microplastic contamination found in common source of groundwater

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Read ScienceDaily Summary here

Samuel V. Panno, Walton R. Kelly, John Scott, Wei Zheng, Rachael E. McNeish, Nancy Holm, Timothy J. Hoellein, Elizabeth L. Baranski. Microplastic Contamination in Karst Groundwater SystemsGroundwater, 2019; DOI: 10.1111/gwat.12862

Microplastics contaminate the world’s surface waters, yet scientists have only just begun to explore their presence in groundwater systems. A new study is the first to report microplastics in fractured limestone aquifers — a groundwater source that accounts for 25 percent of the global drinking water supply. …

…The researchers identified a variety of household and personal health contaminants along with the microplastics, a hint that the fibers may have originated from household septic systems.

“Imagine how many thousands of polyester fibers find their way into a septic system from just doing a load of laundry,” Scott said. “Then consider the potential for those fluids to leak into the groundwater supply, especially in these types of aquifers where surface water interacts so readily with groundwater.”…

Plastic in Britain’s seals, dolphins and whales

University of Exeter Read full Science Daily summary here

  1. S. E. Nelms, J. Barnett, A. Brownlow, N. J. Davison, R. Deaville, T. S. Galloway, P. K. Lindeque, D. Santillo, B. J. Godley. Microplastics in marine mammals stranded around the British coast: ubiquitous but transitory?Scientific Reports, 2019; 9 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-37428-3

Microplastics have been found in the guts of every marine mammal examined in a new study of animals washed up on Britain’s shores.

Researchers from the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) examined 50 animals from 10 species of dolphins, seals and whales — and found microplastics (less than 5mm) in them all.

Most of the particles (84%) were synthetic fibres — which can come from sources including clothes, fishing nets and toothbrushes — while the rest were fragments, whose possible sources include food packaging and plastic bottles.

“It’s shocking — but not surprising — that every animal had ingested microplastics,” said lead author Sarah Nelms, of the University of Exeter and PML.

“The number of particles in each animal was relatively low (average of 5.5 particles per animal), suggesting they eventually pass through the digestive system, or are regurgitated.

“We don’t yet know what effects the microplastics, or the chemicals on and in them, might have on marine mammals.

“More research is needed to better understand the potential impacts on animal health.”…

Climate change tipping point could be coming sooner — Vegetation and soil may not be able to sequester as much carbon due to variability in soil moisture

A net gain of carbon on the land surface, would actually be almost twice as high if it weren’t for the variability in soil moisture

Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science Read full ScienceDaily article here

  • Julia K. Green, Sonia I. Seneviratne, Alexis M. Berg, Kirsten L. Findell, Stefan Hagemann, David M. Lawrence & Pierre Gentine. Large influence of soil moisture on long-term terrestrial carbon uptakeNature, 2019 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0848-x

A new study confirms the urgency to tackle climate change. While it’s known that extreme weather events can affect the year-to-year variability in carbon uptake, and some researchers have suggested that there may be longer-term effects, this study is the first to actually quantify the effects through the 21st century and demonstrates that wetter-than-normal years do not compensate for losses in carbon uptake during dryer-than-normal years, caused by events such as droughts or heatwaves.

…Anthropogenic emissions of CO2 — emissions caused by human activities — are increasing the concentration of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere and producing unnatural changes to the planet’s climate system. The effects of these emissions on global warming are only being partially abated by the land and ocean. Currently, the ocean and terrestrial biosphere (forests, savannas, etc.) are absorbing about 50% of these releases — explaining the bleaching of coral reefs and acidification of the ocean, as well as the increase of carbon storage in our forests.

“It is unclear, however, whether the land can continue to uptake anthropogenic emissions at the current rates,” says Pierre Gentine…

For these flycatchers, global warming spells a rise in fatal conflicts

Cell Press Read full ScienceDaily coverage here

Samplonius and Both. Climate Change May Affect Fatal Competition between Two Bird SpeciesCurrent Biology, 2019 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.11.063

Researchers have found yet another way in which climate change has been detrimental to migrating birds. As European winters have become warmer, pied flycatchers traveling from Africa to reach breeding grounds in the Netherlands are arriving to find that resident great tits have already claimed nesting sites for the season. As a result, the number of flycatchers killed in great tit nests has risen dramatically….

….Climate change has differentially affected the schedules of these interspecific competitors, leading to greater synchrony, the evidence shows. Great tits have been able to respond to warmer winters by shifting the breeding season earlier in a way the flycatchers can’t, Samplonius explains. Because flycatchers spend much of the year in Africa, they aren’t able to adjust to changing conditions in Europe in the same way.

The researchers also found that great tits occupy more nest boxes after mild winters. Not surprisingly, fatal competition is higher in years when and in areas where there are more breeding tits….

… Samplonius says the findings highlight the importance of long-term research for understanding the many and complex effects of a changing climate. “As a scientific community, we have to continue doing and supporting long-term research as climate change continues at increasing rates,” he says.

Two billion birds migrate over Gulf Coast: earliest seasonal movements are starting 1.5 days sooner per decade, though peak activity timing hasn’t changed

Cornell University Read full ScienceDaily article here

Kyle G. Horton et al. Holding steady: Little change in intensity or timing of bird migration over the Gulf of MexicoGlobal Change Biology, 2019; DOI: 10.1111/gcb.14540

A new study combining data from citizen scientists [eBird] and weather radar stations is providing detailed insights into spring bird migration along the Gulf of Mexico and how these journeys may be affected by climate change. Findings on the timing, location, and intensity of these bird movements have been published. …

…. “We calculated that an average of 2.1 billion birds crosses the entire length the Gulf Coast each spring as they head north to their breeding grounds. Until now, we could only guess at the overall numbers from surveys done along small portions of the shoreline.”

…Knowing where and when peak migration occurs means efforts can be made to turn off lights and wind turbines, which are known threats to migratory birds.

Migration timing is also critical for birds. Although migration has evolved in the past as climates changed, the current rate of change may be too rapid for birds to keep pace. This study shows that the earliest seasonal movements are starting sooner, advancing by about 1.5 days per decade, though peak activity timing hasn’t changed, which may be cause for concern. These findings provide important baseline information that will allow scientists to assess the long-term implications of climate change for migratory birds.

“If birds aren’t changing their migration timing fast enough to match the timing for plants and insects, that’s alarming,” Horton says. “They may miss out on abundant resources on their breeding grounds and have less reproductive success.”

With 86% Drop, California’s Monarch Butterfly Population Hits Record Low

By Laura M. Holson    Jan. 9, 2019 Read full NYTimes article here

6They arrive in California each winter, an undulating ribbon of orange and black. There, migrating western monarch butterflies nestle among the state’s coastal forests, traveling from as far away as Idaho and Utah only to return home in the spring.

This year, though, the monarchs’ flight seems more perilous than ever. The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a nonprofit group that conducts a yearly census of the western monarch, said the population reached historic lows in 2018, an estimated 86 percent decline from the previous year.

That in itself would be troubling news. But, combined with a 97 percent decline in the total population since the 1980s, this year’s count is “potentially catastrophic,” according to the biologist Emma Pelton.

“We think this is a huge wake-up call,” said Ms. Pelton, who oversees the survey and lives in Portland, Ore.

Does Grazing Matter for Soil Organic Carbon Sequestration in the Western North American Great Plains?

Long-term removal of grazing from semiarid grassland ecosystems in the western North American Great Plains does not enhance long-term SOC sequestration.

Justin D. Derner, David J. Augustine, Douglas A. Frank. Ecosystems (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-018-0324-3


Considerable uncertainty remains regarding grazing-induced influences on soil organic carbon (SOC) sequestration in semiarid grassland ecosystems due to three important complications associated with studying such effects: (1) Ecologically meaningful shifts in SOC pools attributable to grazing are difficult to detect relative to inherently large grassland SOC pools, (2) a lack of baseline (pre-treatment) data, and (3) frequent lack of or limited replication of long-term grazing manipulations. SOC sequestration rates were determined in 74-year-old grazing exclosures and paired moderately grazed sites, established across a soil texture gradient, in the western North American shortgrass steppe in northeastern Colorado. We sampled soils (0–20 cm) from 12 exclosures and paired grazed sites to measure SOC concentration and soil radiocarbon D14C (&); the latter allowed us to determine turnover of the SOC pool over a 7-decade period in the presence versus the absence of grazing. Removal of grazing for more than 7 decades substantially altered plant community composition but did not affect total soil C, SOC, soil D14C, SOC turnover rate, or total soil N. Grazing effect also did not interact with soil texture to influence any of those soil properties. Soil texture (silt + clay content) did influence total soil C and SOC, and total soil N, but not D14C or SOC turnover. Results provide evidence that long-term removal of grazing from semiarid grassland ecosystems in the western North American Great Plains does not enhance long-term SOC sequestration, despite changes in the relative dominance of C3 versus C4 grasses.

A global vision for conservation and human well-being: Can humans drive economic growth, meet rising demand for food, energy and water, and make significant environmental progress? Yes, but….

Read ScienceDaily article here

Heather Tallis et al. An attainable global vision for conservation and human well-beingFrontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 2018;
; 16(10): 563–570, DOI: 10.1002/fee.1965

….an emerging model for cross-sector collaboration that aims to create a world ready for the sustainability challenges ahead.


A hopeful vision of the future is a world in which both people and nature thrive, but there is little evidence to support the feasibility of such a vision. We used a global, spatially explicit, systems modeling approach to explore the possibility of meeting the demands of increased populations and economic growth in 2050 while simultaneously advancing multiple conservation goals. Our results demonstrate that if, instead of “business as usual” practices, the world changes how and where food and energy are produced, this could help to meet projected increases in food (54%) and energy (56%) demand while achieving habitat protection (>50% of natural habitat remains unconverted in most biomes globally; 17% area of each ecoregion protected in each country), reducing atmospheric greenhouse-gas
emissions consistent with the Paris Climate Agreement (≤1.6°C warming by 2100), ending overfishing, and reducing water stress and particulate air pollution. Achieving this hopeful vision for people and nature is attainable
with existing technology and consumption patterns. However, success will require major shifts in production methods and an ability to overcome substantial economic, social, and political challenges.

From Science Daily:

…Can we design a future that meets people’s needs without further degrading nature in the process?

Our answer is “yes,” but it comes with several big “ifs.” There is a path to get there, but matters are urgent — if we want to accomplish these goals by mid-century, we’ll have to dramatically ramp up our efforts now. The next decade is critical.

Furthermore, changing course in the next ten years will require global collaboration on a scale not seen perhaps since World War II. The widely held impression that economic and environmental goals are mutually exclusive has contributed to a lack of connection among key societal constituencies best equipped to solve interconnected problems — namely, the public health, development, financial and conservation communities. This has to change.

The good news is that protecting nature and providing water, food and energy to a growing world do not have to be either-or propositions. Our view, instead, calls for smart energy, water, air, health and ecosystem initiatives that balance the needs of economic growth and resource conservation equally….

Soils & climate: from hidden depths to centre stage

by Sonja Vermeulen See full Chatham House article here

Soils offer a major share of the world’s actual and potential carbon storage. Globally, the top 30 cm of soil hold about double the carbon in the atmosphere, and more than that in all the forests and sunlit ocean layer combined. Increasing carbon in soils is potentially an effective means of reducing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and in oceans, while providing positive co-benefits, particularly for food security.

Globally soils have the potential to store 6 billion tonnes of CO2 per year. 

Management practices that increase soil organic carbon are largely very low in cost compared to alternative greenhouse-gas abatement options. Scientists and policymakers broadly agree that soil organic carbon can deliver climate-change abatement while helping meet various goals in food security, sustainable development, economic growth and equity. Soils have a carbon-sequestration potential as high as six billion tonnes a year globally, though a more conservative estimate is in the order of a billion tonnes a year, which is about a tenth of total annual emissions of greenhouse gases from all sources. On the back of optimism about them, there is growing visibility for soil organic carbon solutions.

Momentum for action is gathering in political, financial and technical circles. Political headway at the global level is growing through avenues such as the 4 per 1000 Initiative, the 2017 agreement on agriculture under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that explicitly refers to soils, and the central role of soils in the UN Sustainable Development Goals target on land degradation neutrality that is linked to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Financial support is following this political momentum, with new funds such as the Land Degradation Neutrality Fund and the Kickstart Food Fund launched in 2017. Technical momentum includes substantial work on mapping soil organic carbonsharing soil information and developing cost-effective measurement systems.

Pioneering initiatives around the world provide evidence of economic viability and rapid results (see carousel). A mix of regulatory and voluntary initiatives at national and sub-national levels provide timely lessons for global upscaling of action on soil organic carbon. Early adopters of market-based approaches to increasing soil organic carbon include Australia and California. While only eight UNFCCC Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) present targets for soil organic carbon within their intended mitigation options (Armenia, Burkina Faso, China, Japan, Malawi, Namibia, Uruguay and Zambia), many countries have policies that support stronger action. They range from Canada, which recognizes the potential of soil organic carbon under conserved forests and wetlands, to Bhutan with its sustainable soil policy, and France, which has soil health through agro-ecological principles at the heart of its 2014 Law on the Future of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.