Nitrogen pollution’s path to streams weaves through more forests (and faster) than suspected

Read full ScienceDaily coverage here

Sebestyen et al. Unprocessed atmospheric nitrate in waters of the Northern Forest Region in the USA and CanadaEnvironmental Science & Technology, 2019; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b01276

Scientists have completed one of the largest and longest examinations to trace unprocessed nitrate movement in forests. The team found that some nitrate occasionally moves too fast for biological uptake, resulting in ‘unprocessed’ nitrate bypassing the otherwise effective filter of forest biology.

The study links pollutant emissions from various and sometimes distant sources including industry, energy production, the transportation sector and agriculture to forest health and stream water quality.

“Nitrogen is critical to the biological productivity of the planet, but it becomes an ecological and aquatic pollutant when too much is present,” said Stephen Sebestyen, a research hydrologist with the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station based in Grand Rapids, Minn., and the study’s lead author….

“From public land managers to woodlot owners, there is a great deal of interest in forest health and water quality. Our research identifies widespread pollutant effects, which undermines efforts to manage nitrogen pollution.”

Where Will Your Plastic Trash Go Now That China Doesn’t Want It

Read NPR coverage here

Plastic garbage from Trader Joe’s and an AARP card are peeking out of hillocks of plastic trash piling up in Indonesia. It’s a sign of a new global quandary: What should wealthy countries do with their plastic waste now that China no longer is buying it?

For years, America sold millions of tons of used yogurt cups, juice containers, shampoo bottles and other kinds of plastic trash to China to be recycled into new products.And it wasn’t just the U.S. Some 70 percent of the world’s plastic waste went to China – about 7 million tons a year.

Numerous Chinese millionaires were minted as recycling businesses started and blossomed. Sure, they paid for the world’s plastic and paper trash, but they made far more money from processing it and selling the resulting raw materials.

But last year the Chinese government dropped a bombshell on the world recycling business: It cut back almost all imports of trash. And now a lot of that plastic gets shipped to other countries that don’t have the capacity to recycle it or dispose of it safely….

About ‘The Plastic Tide’

NPR is exploring one of the most important environmental issues of our time: plastic waste. Click here to read more about the topic.

World seeing ‘catastrophic collapse’ of insects- 41% in decline and 1/3 heading toward extinction threatening crop pollination and ecosystem food webs

Read Phys.Org. article here

Francisco Sánchez-Bayo et al. Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers, Biological Conservation (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2019.01.020

Nearly half of all insect species worldwide are in rapid decline and a third could disappear altogether, according to a study warning of dire consequences for crop pollination and natural food chains.

…”We estimate the current proportion of insect species in decline—41 percent—to be twice as high as that of vertebrates,” or animals with a backbone, Francisco Sanchez-Bayo of the University of Sydney and Kris Wyckhuys of the University of Queensland in Australia reported.

“At present, a third of all insect species are threatened with extinction.”….

….Experts estimate that flying insects across Europe have declined 80 percent on average, causing bird populations to drop by more than 400 million in three decades.

Only a few species of insects—mainly in the tropics—are thought to have suffered due to climate change, while some in northern climes have expanded their range as temperatures warm.

In the long run, however, scientists fear that global warming could become another major driver of insect demise….

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.”…

Desalination plants produce more waste brine than than previously thought

There’s enough wastewater from the world’s facilities to cover Florida a foot deep—here’s why that’s a potential problem.

By Tik Root Read full National Geographic article here

As clean freshwater has become scarcer around the world—especially in arid regions such as the Middle East and North Africa—those countries that can afford it have increasingly turned to desalination. That energy-intensive process extracts salt from sea (or other saline) water, transforming it into water that’s fit for human consumption. There are now nearly 16,000 desalination plants either active or under construction across the globe.

“[But] they don’t just produce desalinated water,” explains Manzoor Qadir, a researcher at the United Nations University in Canada. “They also produce brine.” Brine is the concentrated salt water that’s left after desalination. But Qadir says, “there is no comprehensive assessment” of how much is being produced. …Qadir’s team analyzed available literature as well as a database of roughly 20,000 desalination plants (including some that are no longer active)….

The literature had long assumed a one-to-one ratio. But Qadir’s study found that the average desalination plant actually produced 1.5 times more brine than desalinated water—fifty percent more than previously thought. That translates to 51.8 billion cubic meters of brine each year, which Qadir says is enough to cover all of Florida, a foot deep.

….Arguably best known [deleterious impact of desalination] is the copious amount of fossil fuels that are often used to power the plants, resulting in a significant amount of emissions. Most desalination plants work by reverse osmosis, meaning energy is needed to push water past a membrane at high pressure in order to separate the salt (learn more how it works). A typical plant takes an average of 10 to 13 kilowatt hours of energy per every thousand gallons processed. That energy use adds to the cost of the process. A recent desalination plant in California cost a billion dollars, and now provides about ten percent of the drinking water of the county of San Diego. The cost, and environmental impacts, of this overall industry have spurred researchers to look for alternatives, including developing more efficient separation membranes and desalination units that can be powered by solar energy. (Learn more about these emerging efforts.)

On the intake side, Burt says that small organisms such as fish larvae and coral can get sucked into a plant. But the greater risk comes at the other end of the process, when the brine is put back into the ocean (where the majority of desalination is done)…..

“Brine will be substantially higher in salinity than normal oceanic water,” he said. “The brine discharge is also warm.” Those conditions, he says, can make it more difficult for marine life in the immediate vicinity of the discharge to survive or thrive.

What Burt is more concerned about, however, are the chemicals that are often in the brine. Qadir’s study points to copper and chlorine as particularly troublesome compounds. …

India’s electric vehicle goals being realized on two wheels, not four

Rajendra Jadhav, Aditi ShahRead full Reuters article here

…Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has set a target of electric vehicles making up 30 percent of new sales of cars and two-wheelers by 2030 from less than 1 percent today.

But its efforts to convince carmakers to produce electric vehicles have flopped mainly because of no clear policy to incentivize local manufacturing and sales, lack of public charging infrastructure and a high cost of batteries.

….Electric scooters make up a fraction of the total but are growing fast. In fiscal 2017-18, sales more than doubled to 54,800 from a year ago while electric car sales fell to 1,200 from 2,000 over the same period, according to data from the Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles (SMEV).

By 2030, sales of electric scooters are expected to cross 2 million a year, even as most carmakers resist bringing electric cars to India….

India is now working on a new policy which aims to incentivize investments in electric vehicle manufacturing, batteries and smart charging, instead of only giving benefits on sales.

The government also wants to push the use of electric vehicles for public use, a revolution already led by three-wheeled autorickshaws. Sales of these vehicles, ubiquitous on Indian city roads, are expected to double to 935,000 units a year by 2023, according to consulting firm P&S Market Research.