Category: Environment

What Happened the Last Time Antarctica Melted?

By Eric Betz | January 18, 2018 2:34 pm
JOIDES

The JOIDES team snapped this image on their transit through the ice near Antarctica. (Credit: JOIDES Resolution/Twitter)

Earlier this week, an international team of geologists and climate scientists parked their ship off the coast of West Antarctica and started drilling. Their mission: To find out why glaciers here melted millions of years ago and what that can tell us about what’s happening today.

Over the next couple months, their ship, the International Ocean Discovery Program’s JOIDES Resolution, will drill at least five core samples reaching thousands of feet below the Ross Sea. These cores will let scientists read layers in the rock record like pages of a book, unraveling climate and ice conditions stretching back tens of millions of years. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: climate change

Blockchain Technologies Could Help You Profit from Green Energy

By Srinivasan Keshav, University of Waterloo | January 8, 2018 1:04 pm
File 20180105 26154 1my86si.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Blockchain technologies could help homeowners sell their green electricity to their neighbors. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Imagine buying a solar panel from a hardware store, mounting it on your roof, then selling the green electricity you produce at a price you set.

Is this even possible? Some companies certainly think so. These startups are harnessing the power of blockchains to democratize green power.

Before you can understand how blockchains are part of the solution, you first need to know a few things about the green electricity market. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology, Top Posts

A Semi-Autonomous Cricket Farm to Feed the World

By Carl Engelking | December 19, 2017 4:12 pm
A feeding bot rolls through the racks of crickets at Aspire Food Group's test farm in Austin, Texas. (Credit: Aspire Food Group)

A feeding bot rolls through the racks of crickets at Aspire Food Group’s test farm in Austin, Texas. (Credit: Aspire Food Group)

When Gabe Mott, Shobhita Soor and Mohammed Ashour proposed building a commercial-scale cricket farm optimized with robots and data, the idea earned the McGill University students the $1 million Hult Prize, the largest student competition for social good, in 2013.

But when it came to launching the concept, they needed to leave convention behind, including most of what had been written in science journals about rearing billions of crickets. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: food, sustainability

Science Under Siege But Surviving — a Trump Timeline

By Gemma Tarlach | December 19, 2017 1:42 pm
(Credit: Shutterstock)

(Credit: Shutterstock)

For many who value science, 2017 will be remembered as the dawn of a new era. January saw the inauguration of Donald Trump, a president who has denied climate change and filled his inner circle with anti-science activists. But the year was as much an awakening as an annus horribilis: Researchers and citizens alike, in the U.S. and beyond, chose to speak out at rallies, on social media and even in the political arena — unprecedented numbers of scientists are considering a run for office.

In a year of surprises, setbacks and signs of hope, here are some of the most memorable and consequential moments from just the first several months of the Trump administration: Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Top Posts

Climate Change, Disease and the Fall of Rome

By Kyle Harper | December 15, 2017 11:01 am
fall-of-rome

This painting (circa 1836) titled “Destruction” is one painting depicting in a five part series by Thomas Cole called “The Course of an Empire.” (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

At some time or another, every historian of Rome has been asked to say where we are, today, on Rome’s cycle of decline. Historians might squirm at such attempts to use the past but, even if history does not repeat itself, nor come packaged into moral lessons, it can deepen our sense of what it means to be human and how fragile our societies are. Read More

A Geoengineered Future Is Downright Scary

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 13, 2017 2:06 pm
(Credit: kazuend/Unsplash)

(Credit: kazuend/Unsplash)

Catastrophic climate change seems inevitable. Between the still-accelerating pace of greenhouse gas emissions and the voices of global warming deniers, hitting the targets laid out in the Paris Accord to slow the pace of a warming climate feels increasingly elusive.

To hit even the 2 degree Celsius cap on a global temperature increase, emissions would need to peak in 2020, or less than three years from now, and keep going down after that. We could do it, but will we? Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Top Posts

Indigenous People are Deploying Drones to Preserve Land and Traditions

By K. N. Smith | December 11, 2017 10:00 am
Fixedwing-drone-Panama_Credit-FAO-Panama

(Credit: FAO Panama)

Indigenous tribes from the Pacific Northwest to the Amazon Basin face a similar set of challenges: How to manage their lands, defend against corporate encroachment and document historic and religious sites for future generations. Often working with limited resources, many indigenous groups are turning to drones to protect and preserve their traditional lands.

Many Central and South American countries have laws that, on paper, limit what companies can do on indigenous lands. But enforcement is hit-or-miss. To make their voices heard, indigenous tribes must go to the government with solid evidence that shows the land is theirs and laws are being broken.

Drones can help gather that evidence. In two separate programs, indigenous communities in both Panama and Guyana are using drones to help monitor deforestation, document their own land use, and fight illegal encroachment into their territories.

Reclaiming What’s Theirs

In Guyana, members of the Wapichan tribe ride motorbikes along bumpy forest roads, drones tucked safely inside their backpacks. They’re heading toward an illegal gold mining operation on the tribe’s land, where workers are clearing away the rainforest and allowing pollutants to run into the Wapichan’s water sources. The drone team will photograph the site from above, creating a mosaic of aerial photos that can be used to defend the tribe’s land in court.

The Wapichan tribe built its own fixed-wing drone in 2014 to patrol its territory from above. Gregor MacLennan, a program director for the nonprofit organization Digital Democracy, and tribe members relied on YouTube videos and online forums to help assemble the drone.

While MacLennan brought some tools and electronic components with him to Guyana, most of the drone’s body was improvised from materials in the village. In part, so the drone was repairable with whatever was on hand in the event of damage. The drone features a motor mount made of plastic cut from an old beer crate.

Since then, the Wapichan program has acquired a few Parrot Bebop quadcopters. And the program has already shown some results: In 2015, a Wapichan drone team spotted an illegal logging operation on the Brazilian border, where settlers often encroach. They also found evidence that the Marudi Mountain gold mine was leaking pollution into Wapichan water sources.

drone-guyana-mapping-indigenous

The Wapichan tribe built a fixed-wing drone with many items from the village. That way, it could be easily repaired if it it got damaged. (Credit: Digital Democracy/Gregor MacLennan)

Within the next year, the tribe’s drone team hopes to fly a mission every month or two. They especially want to focus on the mining area around Marudi Mountain, tracking its rate of deforestation.

Meanwhile, seven of Panama’s largest indigenous tribes—the BriBri, Buglé, Emberá, Kuna, Naso, Ngäbe and Wounaan—have teamed up with the United Nations (U.N.) program Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, or UN-REDD. Through this partnership, a combination of technology and local knowledge will help monitor indigenous lands and curb the trend of forest loss. Since February 2016, volunteers from each tribe have been learning to design flight plans, pilot drones and use aerial data to produce detailed maps of tribal lands. The first flight took off from the indigenous territory of Madugandí, near Panama’s northeastern coast, in April 2016.

Equipped with a smartphone app and GIS training from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, which runs UN-REDD, volunteers from local indigenous communities on the ground look for freshly-cleared areas of forest—the calling card of mining, logging or ranching operations encroaching on tribal lands. Marking the GPS coordinates in the app flags the area for a drone mission so the three-person drone team can map and photograph the site from the air.

“After that, we move to the area, which sometimes is located quite far, about two hours away from a road,” says Rafael Valdespino, a trained drone technician from the territory of Emberá-Wounaan in Panama. The country’s rainy season makes ground surveys practically impossible for roughly six months, and can thwart even satellites, so the drones’ ability to cover remote areas from above makes them vital tools for forest monitoring.

Some of Valdespino’s fellow technicians have already helped develop maps and other documents to support land claims their communities plan to file with the Panamanian government. Some technicians have already held workshops on drone use in Guatemala and Peru, with plans to expand to Paraguay before 2018.

“I encourage other indigenous communities to replicate this project and offer all our support,” says Valdespino.

Mutual Accountability

Thousands of miles north, the 2016 standoff between indigenous activists and Dakota Access, LLC was in full swing. The two sides were at odds over construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. The conflict provided a high-profile example of how indigenous filmmakers and photographers could use drones to document key events and raise awareness of their struggle to maintain land rights.

Drones were essential to the story at Standing Rock, capturing footage that drew national attention to Standing Rock and helped shape the unfolding narrative. But the drones also sparked tense encounters with law enforcement. The DAPL protest is one of the first major events where indigenous people were, in part, in control of the story. And that is significant, says Myron Dewey, a drone pilot, filmmaker, and member of the Paiute and Shoshone tribes.

MyronDewey-dapl-drone-indigenous

Myron Dewey flew drones during the ongoing Stand Rock protests—he believes a drone of his was shot down by local police officers. (Credit: Myron Dewey)

“Being indigenous, it’s very important that we document our own stories, because for too long, our stories have been documented for us, and so it changes the narrative,” he says. “And because of the drones, I was able to do that.”

Drones also provided a layer of security and accountability for the protesters during the tense—and sometimes violent—confrontations with law enforcement and private security.

In August 2016, he says, “I documented two of the security that were harassing people going into camps, from 3 miles away.” And having “eyes always on the people” meant that the protesters had a heightened sense of accountability for their own actions, as well.

And the drone “was used ceremonially. It was smudged, it was blessed, it was sent up, it was taken care of, and it took care of us,” Dewey says.

Not Always A Struggle

Drones are also empowering indigenous groups around the world to make better-informed decisions about their own land management. From documenting the preservation of important historical and sacred sites to monitoring wildlife populations and land-use patterns, these tools give indigenous tribes greater autonomy—they don’t have to rely on outside agencies or groups to monitor their lands and make ecological decisions.

For instance, the drones patrolling Panama’s forests will eventually also help monitor forest fires, harvests from farmland, and the status of water sources. “The combination of land and remote sensing monitoring allows us to know the dynamics of loss, degradation, and restoration of forest cover,” says Valdespino.

drone-panama-indigenous

Rafael Valdespino, assisting the drone as it takes flight, and other drone technicians have used unmanned aircraft to monitor forests in Panama. Some have used data gathered from drones to help support land claims. (Credit: FAO Panama)

In Washington state, entomologist and Colville Confederated Tribes member Nathan Moses-Gonzales hopes to use drones for wildlife monitoring on the Colville Reservation. Previously, the Colville Confederated Tribes used a full-sized manned aircraft to conduct salmon research missions. But the areas surrounding canyons make it difficult for airplanes to get good views, so the tribe is looking to drones.

“Moving ahead, I think [drones offer] strong options for the tribal members to begin to take over their own initiatives and to support their own research locally with tribal members and with tribal support,” Moses-Gonzales says.

Dewey plans to return to a project he started before he brought his drones to Standing Rock, working with state officials to document Paiute and Shoshone historical and sacred sites from the air. “Our battle in Nevada now isn’t water, but also the deforestation of our traditional harvesting areas,” he says.

Using 360-degree drone technology, Dewey also hopes to give Paiute elders a virtual tour of the places that mean so much to them and their people.

But the use of drone technology by indigenous people is not just about the past, or even the present. Much of it is also looking toward the future. Drones have the ability to carry traditional ways of life into the future, possibly bringing technology-based jobs to reservations and helping spark preservation-interest in tribal youth.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology

We Can Do Better Than Road Salt

road-salt

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Marshes, streams and lakes lie alongside many of the roads and highways that zigzag across North America. Plants and animals inhabit these water bodies and can be exposed to many of the substances we put on those roads, including road salt.

Rock salt helps keep roads safe when winter storms hit, reducing winter road accidents. But it can also have serious, negative effects on aquatic ecosystems. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: pollution

How Vulnerable Are Societies to Collapse?

By Jim O'Donnell | September 28, 2017 12:28 pm
Bowl1

Research findings on three early Native American cultures from the southwestern United States show how each responded to environmental challenges in different ways that dramatically altered their people’s futures. (David Williams/SAPIENS)

Along the cottonwood-lined rivers of southwestern New Mexico and southeastern Arizona, the Mimbres people did something unique: By the year 1000, these farmers were producing stunning ceramics decorated with naturalistic images of fish, people, and rabbits, as well as magical creatures and elaborate geometric patterns. And then, rather abruptly, they stopped.

After roughly a century of higher than normal rainfall, the area the Mimbres inhabited suffered a powerful drought, as indicated by the archaeological record. Big game—already scarce—became even less abundant, and it became harder to grow the beans, corn and squash that the Mimbres relied on. By about 1150 the Mimbres were no longer making their signature pottery. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World, Top Posts

Lake Michigan Itself Is the Greatest Asian Carp Deterrent

By Eric Betz | September 22, 2017 3:31 pm
Asian carp jump from the water at the mouth of the Wabash River in Ohio. (Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Todd Davis)

Asian carp jump from the water at the mouth of the Wabash River in Ohio. (Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Todd Davis)

For years, people have been freaking out that Asian carp are about to invade the Great Lakes.

That concern seemed more real than ever this summer after an Illinois fisherman caught a carp in June less than 10 miles from Lake Michigan — beyond the barriers designed to keep them out.

These voracious fish have already decimated Midwestern rivers. They’re filter feeders who feast on plankton — the tiny plants and critters that prop up foodchains. And they eat lots of them. Adult Asian carp eat pounds of the stuff every day. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Top Posts
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