Environment: Danube plastic pollution out of control, scientists say after intensive sampling effort

At times, there’s more plastic than baby fish in Europe’s second-largest river

Sunrise along the Danube in Linz, Austria.

Sunrise along the Danube in Linz, Austria. @bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —The Danube River has long been a source of inspiration for songs, fairytales and dreams. But in recent decades, those dreams have morphed into plastic nightmare of sorts, as the mighty European stream sends at least 1,500 tons of plastic debris surging into the Black Sea each year.

So much plastic is being washed into the Danube that, at times, the debris outweighs the amount of fish larvae drifting down Europe’s second-largest river, a team of Austrian scientists found after two years of intensive sampling.

Most of the plastic (about 80 percent) is from pre-consumer industrial sources — in other words, from the factories that make the tiny plastic pellets and flakes that, in turn, are used to make everything from toothbrushes to kids toys, says Aaron Lechner, a researcher with the University of Vienna who teamed up with other scientists to take a close look at the problem. Continue reading

Morning photo: Austria!

Colorful countryside …


FRISCO —Not sure exactly what spurred me to re-post a few of my favorite shots from what I consider to be at least my spiritual homeland. Both my parents hail from towns along the banks of the Danube, albeit from different countries, and every now then, I realize that, for all the decades I’ve lived in the West, there’s a big part of me that’s still connected to this wonderful slice of Central Europe. For daily photography updates, follow our Instagram feed, and visit our online gallery for an amazing selection of prints and greeting cards.

Sunday travel anthology

Calderas, Corfu and … cream cheese?

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Sunrise over the Danube River. bberwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — In between fretting about Colorado River flows and reporting on the travails of endangered lynx and sage-grouse, it’s good to get out and see the world. It helps look at issues in a global context — and so many issues these days are global. Of course, not every story is environmental. Sometimes, travel comes down to the simple task of trying to find a Frisbee in Rome … Travel: Around the world with a Frisbee.

Searching for roots can give travel great meaning, and if it involves a bit of Cold War cloak and dagger and European history, so much the better … Travel: Cold War memories along the Danube.

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Leigh Wadden at the edge of the Wadden Sea, Texel Island, The Netherlands. bberwyn photo.

Or, you can search for the roots of your family name, perhaps linked somehow with one of the world’s great estuarine wetlands, inhabited by talking bumblebees … Travel: Mystery meat and talking bees on Texel.

Travel doesn’t necessarily require a passport. There are plenty of adventures to be had within a few hundred miles of anywhere, especially when you set out for the remote hinterlands north of the Grand Canyon with what you know is sketchy starter in your engine … Travel: Karma and climate change in the Southwest.

Little things can be the most memorable, like buying a big box of blueberries from a roadside vendor at a dusty, nowhere crossroads in Slovenia, then eating on the train while watching a blazing Adriatic sunset … A Balkan sampler: Blueberries and mopeds in Slovenia.

The lure of far-away places can reward with the unexpected. When you miss the ferry in Corfu — twice — you get to know a place a little better … Travel photo essay: World Heritage preserved in Albania.

And there’s probably nothing better than introducing your kids to the wonders of the world with a trip focused around one of the planet’s greatest sporting events … Travel: Father and son with World Cup fever.

Morning photo: Along the Danube

“Listen to the river sing sweet songs, to rock my soul … “

Sunrise over the Danube.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Danube River weaves together a rich and diverse tapestry of culture and scenery, and it’s also an important thread in my life. Both my parents grew up along its banks; my mom in Linz, Austria and my dad in Bratislava, capital of the Slovak Republic. As a young boy, I spent many weeks near the river at my grandmother’s home and since then, I’ve returned to visit as often as possible.

As they easily transcend national boundaries,  great rivers hold a fascination for travelers. This summer, I gathered once again with family and loved ones to complete a very special trip started by my dad long ago in another era.

Kayaking the Danube.

Rivers can connect cultures, but they often also form the borders between countries, or, in the case of the Cold War, between two completely irreconcilable ideologies. As a young man, my dad was on the wrong side of that boundary, trapped behind the Iron Curtain while his spirit longed to fly free. Eventually, he was faced with a tough choice; stay and give in to the ideology of fear, hate and cynicism, or flee, leaving behind his family and loved ones, knowing that it would quite a while, if ever, before they knew his fate. Continue reading

Morning photo: Austrian soul food

Not noveau, just down-home cooking …

The all-time classic Wienerschnitzel, which involves pounding a pork or veal cutlet into tender submission and coating it with thick flour-egg-breadcrumb crust.

SUMMIT COUNTY — When it comes to food, I’m not too picky. I can appreciate a good burger, a tasty veggie salad, spicy enchiladas and more, but I definitely have a soft spot for Austrian food. I spent many summers along the Danube back in the 1960s and early 70s, helping my Oma harvest fruit and veggies from her garden, and visiting the local butcher shops and bakeries, so each time I return, I revel in the memories that food are so good at evoking. After all, we don’t eat just to nourisn the body, we eat to feed the soul.

Leave a comment at the end of the post and tell me what your favorite Austrian food is.

The pastry case at any self-respecting Austrian bakery features at least a dozen types of fruit and cream-filled concoctions that will give you a daily dose of calories in just one helping.

Continue reading

Environment: Pesticide pollution common in European rivers

The Elbe River.

Ibuprofen and chemicals from personal care products found in surprising concentrations as part of EU water quality research

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — After a major in-depth analysis of organic pollutants in four major European river basins, scientists concluded that pesticides are an even bigger problem than previously assumed. At least 38 percent of the substances studied are present in concentrations high enough to affect aquatic organisms.

Most of the substances classified as a risk to the environment in the study were pesticides and the majority of these are not on the European list of priority substances which have to be monitored regularly. As a result, the scientists said there is an urgent need to update the EU water framework directive. The study, published last week in the  journal Science of the Total Environment, clearly shows that contamination by organic chemicals is a problem throughout Europe. Continue reading

Morning photo: Blue

From the Danube to blueberry pie …

The blue Danube, from the stern of a hydrofoil racing downriver from Vienna to Bratislava.

SUMMIT COUNTY — We’ve done the yellow and the red, so there are only a few primary colors left, and blue is next in our series of color-themed photoblogs. It’s amazing how many shades of blue there area when you really start looking, and rather than picking out blue objects, I looked for images that had an overall blue cast.We’re always looking for guest photographers to share images, so if you have a few photos you want to share, please contact bberwyn@comcast.net. Continue reading

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