Archive for the ‘environmental science’ Category

Microplastics can travel on the wind, polluting pristine regions

April 22nd, 2019
The Pyrenees mountains, now with microplastics.

Enlarge / The Pyrenees mountains, now with microplastics. (credit: flickr user: Paula Funnell)

Microplastics may be having a moment in the spotlight, as the public is increasingly aware of their presence in the environment around us. But as more evidence of their presence comes to light, it’s becoming clearer that we don’t yet have a handle on how big or bad the problem is. A huge amount of small plastic particles end up in the sea, but recent research has also found them in in lakes and mountain river floodplains, and even as airborne pollution in megacities.

A new paper in Nature Geoscience reports finding microplastics in a region that should be pristine: the French Pyrenees mountains. The researchers estimated that the particles could have traveled from as far as 95 km away, but they suggest that it could be possible for microplastics to travel even further on the wind—meaning that even places relatively untouched by humans are now being polluted by our plastics.

The mystery of the disappearing plastic

Every year, millions of tonnes of plastic are produced. In 2016, this figure was estimated to be around 335 million tonnes. We have no idea where most of this ends up. The amounts that are recovered in recycling plants and landfill don't match the amount being produced. Some of it stays in use, sometimes for decades, which explains part of the discrepancy. An estimated 10 percent ends up in the oceans. Although these numbers could change with further research, there's still a gap.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Posted in Earth science, environmental science, microplastics, science | Comments (0)

1,000-year-old German dinner reveals long-distance Viking trade routes

August 7th, 2017

Enlarge / A Viking merchant ship carries trade goods far from home, including a special freeze-dried cod called stockfish. (credit: Wikimedia)

More than a millennium ago, people in the Viking Age city of Haithabu dined on a dish of freeze-dried cod and tossed the bones aside. It was a relatively unremarkable meal, except for one thing. The DNA in those bones was preserved into the present day, and scientists in Norway have just sequenced it. What they found has confirmed the truth of stories from the Icelandic sagas about Vikings sailing exceptionally long routes to trade with other groups.

Today, the coastal city of Haithabu is an archaeological site in Germany on the Baltic Sea. But the people who munched on that dried cod roughly 1,000 years ago were living under Danish rule in a cosmopolitan port city. Haithabu was a key stop on a lively sea trade route that brought tasty treats and trinkets like walrus tusks from distant lands. Though there is ample evidence of this kind of trade 800 years ago, University of Oslo environmental biologist Bastiaan Star and his colleagues have pushed that date back at least 200 years, and possibly 400, just by sequencing cod DNA. This dramatically changes our understanding of long-distance trade in Northern Europe during the Viking Age.

In Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Star and his team describe how they used DNA analysis to trace the origins of 15 different cod eaten centuries ago in Germany, Norway, and the UK. The group has been studying ancient cod DNA to better understand the way humans have affected the migration routes and populations of this staple fish over time. This new discovery, however, has shed light on international trade. By comparing DNA sequences from ancient cod with modern ones, the researchers found that certain populations of fish have stuck to the same breeding grounds and migration routes for at least 1,200 years. Small mutations in the cod genome reveal which population the individual comes from, and that in turn reveals where they spawned.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Posted in cod, DNA, environmental science, science, viking age, vikings | Comments (0)

The U.S. government is removing scientific data from the internet

June 30th, 2017

Ars Live is filmed by Chris Schodt and produced by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

In our latest episode of Ars Technica Live, Ars editors Annalee Newitz and Joe Mullin talked to UC Santa Cruz sociology professor Lindsey Dillon about how the Trump Administration has been removing scientific and environmental data from the Web. Lindsey is part of a group called Environmental Data Governance Initiative (EDGI), which is working on ways to rescue that data and make it available to the public.

Lindsey told us how EDGI got started in November 2016, within days of the presidential election. Its founders are scientists and academics whose main goal was to make sure that researchers and citizens would continue to have access to data about the environment. They organized data rescue events around the country, where volunteers identified vulnerable climate information on websites for several government agencies, including the EPA, DOE, and even NASA. The Internet Archive helped by creating digital records of all the at-risk pages.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Posted in ars technica live, Ars Technica Videos, data rescue, Environmental Protection Agency, environmental science, lindsey dillon | Comments (0)