A Special Place for Blog Lovers with a Touch of Science!

Enjoy our special posts in the fields of Earth & Planetary Sciences (EPS Blog) and Social Sciences & Arts (SSA Blog)

A Special Place for Blog Lovers with a Touch of Science!

Fighting deadly air pollution in cities with sensors and satellites

Credit: Getty images

Urban smog is a major threat to human health. New sensors and data-collection techniques will help to improve air quality

Each day, we take about 20 000 breaths. The oxygen in the air nourishes the cells in our bodies. But when the air we breathe contains harmful particulate matter and chemicals, those contaminants can also find their way into our body.

Air pollution is one of the greatest threats to human health and kills millions of people worldwide every year. According to estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2019, 99% of the global population lived in places where air quality failed to meet WHO guidelines.

In the European Union the same year, 307 000 people died prematurely as a result of chronic exposure to tiny particles of pollution, according to the European Environment Agency's report on air quality in Europe.


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Xavier Cortada at the TED Countdown

Credit: Gilberto Tadday / TED

Socially engaged art

Artist Xavier Cortada spoke at the TED Countdown event hosted in London, England on Monday, October 3rd, 2022. He talked about using socially engaged art as a tool for engaging, educating, and mobilizing communities around climate action. The TED Talk will likely be published online in December 2022.

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Sun, sea, sustainability – could your next European holiday be a greener one?

Credit: Sunset at Sete Cidades lakes, Sao Miguel island, Azores, Atlantic ocean, Portuga; Gettyimages

Green tourism

With the tourism industry on a high bounce following the lifting of pandemic restrictions, many holiday-goers are looking for ways to travel more responsibly and sustainably. But the annual surge of visitors at resorts and destinations can create environmental headaches for people living in the locality.

Following two years of restrictions and with pent-up demand, millions of Europeans are packing suitcases and flocking to airports to jet off for relaxing getaways. And for many people planning a holiday, responsible travel has become a significant consideration.

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A tale of two oceans: Scientists are building digital twins of the ocean

Credit: Gettyimages

Digital Twin

Before the term "digital twin" was first used twenty years ago, engineers at NASA were already developing ground-based replicas of spacecraft infrastructure. Today's manufacturers are also seeing double, taking advantage of digital duplicates to better understand and predict product performance. Now EU scientists are looking to apply the same principles to the natural world – building more and more digital twins of the ocean.

Pioneered in the aerospace industry, the use of digital twins – exact digital replications of objects or environments – are commonplace in engineering and manufacturing. While the concept isn't new, its applications in the natural world are. But they have the potential to revolutionise our knowledge of our ocean, seas and waters, and become a game-changer in our ability to protect and restore them.

'As marine scientists we try to understand systems and their dynamics. This allows us to develop models and make forecasts of the ocean, similar to weather forecasts in the atmosphere. We now have the ability to look far into the future, but I never thought that we would move in such an ocean engineering direction like we are seeing it today,' said Martin Visbeck, head of the research unit Physical Oceanography at GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and professor at Kiel University, Germany.

'I like the name "twinning" because it shows the evolution. It's a sign of how much the marine science community has evolved. We're going from understanding to purposefully engineering positive outcomes for the ocean by supporting nature-based solutions, optimising the blue economy for low environmental impacts and optimising the size and locations of marine protected areas.'

Prof. Visbeck is part of an ambitious team of scientists supporting the development of the EU Mission Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030. And the Digital Twin of the Ocean, better known by its acronym DTO, is a crucial component of this initiative – to support the EU's mission to restore ocean, seas and waters by 2030 and make the European Green Deal a reality.

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On this date, 25 years ago…

Credit: Gettyimages

Kyoto Protocol

On 16 February 1997, the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an international treaty, was adopted. It was named after the Japanese city in which it was signed. The treaty aimed to reduce the increasing level of gas emissions, which are responsible for global warming. The Kyoto protocol is in effect since 2005. It called for reducing the levels of six greenhouse gases in the European Union plus 41 other countries. The goal was to decrease the emissions to 5.2 percent below 1990 levels during the period 2008-12. It was widely regarded as the most significant environmental treaty ever negotiated, though some critics questioned its effectiveness. 

The Kyoto Protocol was later extended until 2020. At the 17th and 19th Conference of the Parties, held respectively in Durban, South Africa, 2011 and Doha, Qatar, 2012 the delegates agreed that the protocol should be replaced by a new comprehensive, legally binding climate treaty by 2015. The new treaty would require the limitation and reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by the gas-producing countries. It was planned for implementation in 2020 when it should fully replace the Kyoto Protocol.


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Soon enough we could have clean oceans

Free-ranging Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus) swimming with plastic litter © Massimiliano Rosso for Maelstrom H2020 project

How robots and bubbles could soon help clean up underwater litter

If you happened to be around the coast of Dubrovnik, Croatia in September 2021, you might have spotted two robots scouring the seafloor for debris. The robots were embarking on their inaugural mission and being tested in a real-world environment for the first time, to gauge their ability to perform certain tasks such as recognising garbage and manoeuvring underwater. 'We think that our project is the first one that will collect underwater litter in an automatic way with robots,' said Dr Bart De Schutter, a professor at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and coordinator of the SeaClear project.

The robots are an example of new innovations being developed to clean up underwater litter. Oceans are thought to contain between 22 and 66 million tonnes of waste, which can differ in type from area to area, where about 94% of it is located on the seafloor. Fishing equipment discarded by fishermen, such as nets, are prevalent in some coastal areas while plastic and glass bottles are mostly found in others, for example. 'We also sometimes see construction material (in the water) like blocks of concrete or tyres and car batteries,' said Dr De Schutter.

When litter enters oceans and seas it can be carried by currents to different parts of the world and even pollute remote areas. Marine animals can be affected if they swallow garbage or are trapped in it while human health is also at risk if tiny pieces end up in our food. 'It's a very serious problem that we need to tackle,' said Dr Fantina Madricardo, a researcher at the Institute of Marine Sciences – National Research Council (ISMAR-CNR) in Venice, Italy and coordinator of the Maelstrom project.

Human divers are currently deployed to pick up waste in some marine areas but it's not an ideal solution. Experienced divers are needed, which can be hard to find, while the amount of time they can spend underwater is limited by their air supply. Some areas may also be unsafe for humans, due to contamination for example. 'These are aspects that the automated system we are developing can overcome,' said Dr De Schutter. '(It) will be much more efficient, cost effective and safer than the current solution which is based on human divers.'

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Marine species can cling together to buy time during climate warming

Credit: Laura Jurgens

Mussel beds protect other species during hot days

Some marine species can help protect others from climate change by shielding them from heat, according to a new study by Texas A&M University at Galveston and other scientists.

Laura Jurgens and colleagues at the University of Vermont and the University of California, Davis detail the findings in the journal Ecology.

The team studied how tiny crabs and isopods -- marine versions of pill bugs -- that live on rocky shores react to warming of their habitats. The researchers found that the mussel beds these animals live in protect them from temperature swings and keep them from drying out on hot, sunny days.

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How to prevent future pandemics?

Image credit: NSF/Nicole Rager-Fuller

Biodiversity loss increases exposure to new and established pathogens

A growing body of evidence suggests that biodiversity loss increases exposure to both new and established zoonotic pathogens. Restoring and protecting nature is essential to preventing future pandemics.

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Climate change forces rethinking of conservation biology planning

Many protected areas do not take into account the potential long-term effects of climate change.
Credit:
Mandy Choi via Unsplash

Countries need to consider long-term effects of climate change in protected areas

For more than a decade, countries around the world have made progress in expanding protected area networks to conserve the planet's biodiversity. But according to a new study published in Global Change Biology, the locations of these protected areas do not account for the potential long-term effects of climate change.

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SSA Recent Posts

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Social Sciences & Arts (SSA)
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