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Global hydropower boom poses biodiversity risks

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Hoover Dam.

New database to help assess impacts of planned dams

Staff Report

FRISCO — An emergent global hydropower boom will help meet the demand for low-carbon energy, but also poses environmental risks, according to experts compiling a new data base on global hydropower.

The boom is expected to double production of hydropower, but could also reduce  the number of our last remaining large free-flowing rivers by about 20 percent and pose a serious threat to freshwater biodiversity.

A new database has been developed to support decision making on sustainable modes of electricity production. An unprecedented number of dams for electricity production is currently under construction or planned worldwide, mainly in developing countries and emerging economies in South America, Southeast Asia and Africa, that also hold some of the world’s most important sites for freshwater biodiversity.  Continue reading

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Activists to challenge EPA approval of new herbicide

Corn husks, stalks and leaves could help provide material for a sustainable source of biofuel.

Activists challenge EPA approval of new herbicides.

Chemical-agricultural death spiral continues …

Staff Report

FRISCO — A coalition of farmers and environmental groups claim the EPA didn’t adequately analyze the human health and environmental impacts of a powerful new herbicide before authorizing for use on genetically engineered corn and soybean crops.

Activists said they will sue the agency over the approval, explaining that use of Dow’s Enlist Duo, a blend of glyphosate and 2,4-D, will only foster more weed resistance.

“The voices of independent family farmers are being drowned out by the revolving door of corporate and government agency heads,” said Mississippi farmer Ben Burkett. “It’s time for our government to pay attention to the farmer concerns about the negative impacts of herbicide-resistant GMO on our food supply,” said Burkett, president of the National Family Farm Coalition. Continue reading

New governance model needed for sustainable fisheries

Trawl nets grab any and all forms of marine life, laying waste to the ocean floor. The total area bottom trawled is nearly 150 times the area of forest that is clearcut annually around the world. Credit: Sarah Foster

Trawl nets grab any and all forms of marine life, laying waste to the ocean floor. The total area bottom trawled is nearly 150 times the area of forest that is clearcut annually around the world.
Credit: Sarah Foster

Focus on large commercial fishing operations misses big part of the picture

Staff Report

FRISCO — Ignoring small-scale fisheries risks irreversible harm to ocean ecosystems, scientists warned this week, calling for on governments to adopt new models for regulating small coastal fishing operations that account for about 90 percent of the world’s fishers — about 100 million strong.

Most of those fishermen depend on the ocean for their livelihoods and many catch fish and other marine animals at unsustainable levels. Governments, conservationists, and researchers around the world must address the enormous threat posed by these unregulated and destructive fisheries, marine scientists wrote in Science. Continue reading

Antarctica’s ice-free fringe needs more protection

Invasive species a huge threat to sparse ecosystems, scientists report

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Tourists on Dundee Island hike past birds and pinnipeds. bberwyn photo

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Tourists hiking on Deception Island. bberwyn photo

Staff Report

FRISCO — The tiny ice-free fringes of Antarctica are especially prone to ecosystem disruption, including invasive species, an Australian science team warned earlier this year after taking a close look at how human use is concentrated in those slivers of dry land.

Antarctica has over 40,000 visitors a year, and more and more research facilities are being built in the continent’s tiny ice-free area. Most of the Antarctic wildlife and plants live in the ice-free areas – and this is also where people most visit.

Most tour operators in Antarctica follow strict guidelines set to protect ecosystems, including at least basic decontamination procedures, but those measures might not be enough, especially as global warming makes ice-free zones more susceptible to invasive species. Continue reading

New test enables better tracking of fracking pollution

Signs of oil and gas development are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Signs of oil and gas development are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Stable tracers can help pinpoint ground and surface water contamination

Staff Report

FRISCO — There’s more and more evidence that fracking wastewater can — and sometimes does — pollute ground and surface water, but it’s not always easy to trace the pollution, especially since drillers often keep secret their fracking fluid recipes.

But after field tests at a spill site in West Virginia and downstream from an oil and gas brine wastewater treatment plant in Pennsylvania, scientists say they can reliably identify hydraulic fracturing flowback fluids that have been spilled or released into the environment by using stable boron and lithium tracers that distinctive chemical fingerprints. Continue reading

Environment: Tracking pharmaceutical pollutants up the food chain

Fish-eating ospreys not showing signs of contamination

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Ospreys so far are not picking up significant amounts of pharmaceutical pollution found in many streams and rivers around the world. bberwyn photo

Staff Report

FRISCO — Pharmaceutical compounds from makeup and drugs are turning up in streams and rivers all over the world, even in remote Yucatan cenotes, but for now, they don’t seem to be working their way up the food chain.

The chemicals have been finding their way into the environment, primarily through wastewater, urban runoff and even biosolids applied to agricultural lands, but he impact on wildlife is unknown, so researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey and Baylor University teamed up to try and track the pollutants through the food chain by testing ospreys. Continue reading

Predator decline spawns thorny biodiversity dilemma

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Yet another study describes cascading ecological impacts of declining predator populations.

Plant communities change as herbivoves spread

Staff Report

FRISCO — The global decline of large predators is leading to a loss of plant and tree diversity, scientists said after studying ecosystem changes in Africa. Recent research shows more than 75 percent of the world’s large carnivore species are in decline, with 17 of those species occupying less than half of their historical distributions.

The research by University of British Columbia zoologist Adam Ford and his colleagues involved tracking Africal impalas with GPS units to see how they respond to the presence (and absence) of predators, specifically whether the predators scare impala so much that impala will avoid areas where they are likely to be killed. They combined the tracking data with a high-resolution satellite image of tree cover and located carcasses to determine where impala are being killed. Continue reading

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