Sunday, February 27, 2011

Too Much of a Good Thing?

An excess of nitrogen, a naturally occurring element essential for growth, has been increasing in concentration in waterways. Through the combustion of fossil fuels, nitrogen gasses are released into the atmosphere and then fall again to the earth as acid rain rich in nitrogen compounds. Nitrogen is also added to agricultural fields through chemical fertilizers. Nitrogen is put into an ammonia rich compound and prayed or spread across agricultural fields. When heavy rains fall, the excess nutrient not used in growth is picked up by the water and taken into larger collections of water which eventually lead to streams, rivers, or lakes. The increase in livestock around the world also adds to the increase of nitrogen in water. Animal and human waste contains high amounts of nitrogen that can be swept into waterways because of heavy rains or sewage problems. The nitrogen from all of these sources ultimately travels to water ecosystems.

Due to the excess of nitrogen in these water ecosystems, a process called eutrophication occurs. Eutrophication is when algae suddenly grow out of control because there is a large amount of their essential grown nutrient. This extreme excess of growth causes pipes to clog, all of the oxygen to be use up in the system, and the high concentration of organisms blocks the light from those that live deeper in the water system. Jill Baron, a scientist with the USGS, is currently participating in a study of limiting nutrients in alpine lakes in locations such as Colorado, Norway, and Sweden. These ecosystems are ideal to study because they are secluded from humans and have no immediate drainage from polluted watersheds. Before the industrial revolution, organisms in the water ecosystems in these locations has an abundance of phosphorus and were limited in growth because a lack of nitrogen. After the shift to a more urban society with more pollutants, there was so much nitrogen present in the alpine lakes that organisms were not missing phosphorus to continue their growth. This discovery shows that there has been a significant increase of nitrogen in the atmosphere due to the increase of technology and burning of fossil fuels from the time after the industrial revolution until now.

The pollution of water due to agricultural practices, industry, urbanization, and the burning of fossil fuels could prove to be devastating to the world in the next 50 years. There has been a prediction that water will be the most essential natural resources to protect as the world population continues to climb. If waterways continue to be polluted with nitrogen, they will become less productive for providing food resources and drinkable water to humans and animals. It is important that the agricultural practices of spreading excess ammonium fertilizer and the extreme burning of fossil fuels stops in order to preserve the potable water that the world currently has access to in order to benefit future generations.

"Goin" Green

I may be taking a chance with this blog seeing as I am the only male student in this class but the topic is water issues. I read about this in a few articles, however, have yet to find the actual research paper (I will keep looking). The information comes from an ad campaign ran in Brazil. With the cost of water going up in many regions and concerns about conserving our natural resources, there are lots of ways to save the water we use at home. This one might blow you away: you can save a minimum of 584 gallons of water per year per person in your household by just peeing in the shower once a day instead of the toilet.

It all goes to the same place. The only difference is that the shower “flushes” it down with water that was going to be used anyway. A toilet flush uses water that could have been saved, and that’s where you’re going to save some water and money. Your water savings will depend on how many people live in your home and how much water your toilets use. If your toilet was built after 1994, it will use a maximum of 1.6 gallons. If it was built between 1982 and 1993, it’ll use 3.5 or less. So if you have a family of 5, using toilets built after 1994, you would save 2,920 gallons per year if everyone peed in the shower once a day. If you have older toilets, the savings can be over 6,000 gallons a year, but at that point you would probably save more by buying some newer toilets or putting a weighted jug full of rocks in the tank of the ones you have, which will cause them to flush using less water.

Another great tip for saving with shower water, put a bucket in your shower to catch all that cold water that comes out while you wait for it to heat up. This water can be reused for other things. It’s really the same water that comes out of your kitchen sink, so you can use it for anything from watering your plants to making a pot of Mac-N-Cheese. If it grosses you out to think about it, reserve that water for use on plants, yards, car washes, or anything else where no one’s going to drink or eat it.

Floating Soil Panels

New floating soil panels are about to overcome the two major challenges that the current solar energy cause: they require vast land area in order to be built and the cost of the solar cells fabrication and maintenance is very high.

The team has decided that they were going to take on the struggle of finding somewhere to install the solar panels. The idea of putting the solar panels on the water is a new concept. The panels are put on industrial water basins that are already in use for other purposes. The team worked hard to reduce the cost of the project. They reduced the quantity of solar cells used due to a sun energy concentration system based on mirrors and also keeps steady the amount of power produced.

Due to the system being built on the water, the water can be used as a cooling system to prevent the silicon cells from overheating. The silicon cells are more reliable and lower in cost than other standard cells/ These panels are designed so that they can be assembled with just the amount of needed modules depending on the power rate needed. Each modulus produces about 200 kilowatts.

In addition to the price and power, the solar panels also provide a breathing surface and allows oxygen to penetrate to the water. Because of this breathing surface, the panels will maintain the underwater life of plants and animals.

This new solar concept was developed by a Franco-Israeli partnership (there is a collaboration between the EDF Group of France and Solaris Synergy from Israel). The team is planning to start to implement the idea in September 2011. The test site will be located at Cadarache, in the South East of France. This site was chosen because its position on the French electric grid and being close to a local hydro-electric facility which will provide the water surface for the insulation of the solar panels. The testing will continue for nine months so that the team can monitor the system's performance and productivity through the seasonal changes and various water levels. The project will be closely monitored the possible effects of the environment especially water quality, flora, and fauna.

Source : www.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Creating Potable Water!

One major problem in the world today is that we are not efficiently using the water that we have. Many places in the world do not even have potable water that they can drink. Still other areas overuse their water supplies on things such as agriculture. In other areas, the climate is just so arid that it is hard to maintain a steady supply of water. Because of the essential need for this natural resource, people have been trying to figure out new ways of collecting and distributing water to places that do not have as much of it. One technique that has been used is purifying water that is unhealthy for consumption into potable water that can be moved to other places.

Some researchers have come up with a mechanism for purifying water using silver particles. Their idea is more for use in emergency situations rather than purifying water in bulk. In their study, they came up with a paper filtering system coated with silver nanoparticles that could help filter out and kill the bacteria that is in the contaminated water. The paper filter can be held in the hand and the water can be poured through the paper to filter out the contaminants. This relatively simple mechanism was developed based on the knowledge that people have been using silver to purify water for many, many years and centuries.

In their laboratory studies, they have found that this process is very effective at removing and killing bacterial contaminants. Now that they have the laboratory studies under their belt, they would soon like to move onto testing this mechanism in the field. Hopefully someday, if this mechanism is effective in the field, it could be moved to a bigger scale so that it could be taken across seas to places such as Africa and India. This mechanism for water purification could be very useful in these areas to help provide the people there with potable drinking water.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Drinking Recycled Water

Many areas in the US use more water than the local ecosystem can sustain. To compensate for addition need water is transported from other locations. Water from rivers are allocated to certain area to insure that the publics water needs are met. This is a costly process. Many cities have begun using reclaimed or recycled water that has been treated to remove solids and impurities. In the past this water has been used in sustainable landscaping or used to recharge groundwater aquifers. But for millions of people in the Orange County Water District in California this reconstituted water will become their future drinking water.

Purifying sewage is a long and intense process. It includes a hard scrubbing with filters, screens, chemicals, ultraviolet light and the usage of underground aquifers to further purify the water. City officials and others hope this will serve as a model for authorities worldwide who are facing drought conditions and water shortages due to climate change and the depletion of freshwater supplies.

The water undergoes reverse osmosis which involves forcing water through thin porous membranes at very high pressures. Peroxide and UV light are used to further clean and break down any remaining pharmaceuticals and carcinogens. District managers say the finished produce exceeds drinking water standards. However, the reclaimed water will not flow directly into kitchen sinks because of state regulations. The water will instead be injected underground to be filtered through aquifers that supply 2.3 million people will clean drinking water. Official say this project will produce more potable water and at a higher quality compared to the water plant it is replaces.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Climate Change and Evolution

As many of us know, there are always predator-prey interactions in any environment. Sometimes these interactions can be very complex and the predator may be very specialized to one specific type of prey. There is, for example, a very specific reliance of monarch caterpillars on the milkweed plant. The milkweed plant not only provides nourishment for the caterpillars but it also provides chemicals to the caterpillars that help make them toxic to other predators. The milkweed plants produce certain toxins to deter the caterpillars and other herbivores from eating them.

Normally there would be selection pressures on the plants so that the ones with the genetic advantage would survive and reproduce. (The genetic advantage being the plants that can produce natural insecticidal chemicals.) Due to global climate change and rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere, the natural insecticide chemicals produced by plants are being altered and the course of evolution is therefore also being changed.

In a study conducted with milkweed plants in different concentrations of atmospheric CO2, they found that chemical defenses of the plants were generally reduced. The plants began to develop other more physical defenses to help protect themselves from herbivorous insects. Because of the rising levels of carbon in the atmosphere, there may be changes in the way plants defend themselves and therefore a change in evolutionary patterns.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How rising sea levels will affect the US coastline

Where are we headed? Well if the most recent sea-level-rise science is correct, then sea levels will rise another meter for each century at the current rate of global warming. The parts of the country that will be hit the hardest are the southern Atlantic coast and the Gulf cities. There is a chance that cities like Miami, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, and Virgina Beach could lose more than ten percent of their land area by the turn of the century. Projections are calling for sea levels to rise by one meter by the turn of the century which will effect the flat and low-lying land. According to a new study led by scientist at the University of Arizona, by the time 2100 is here, the rising sea levels could cover up to nine percent of their land area in 180 cities. Of these 180 cities, twenty cities have over 300,000 people. All together, these coastal towns account for 40.5 million people. If the sea level continues to rise to a height of three meters, major northeastern cities like Ney York and Boston would lose about ten percent of their land area. The vulnerable southeastern cities would lose up to 20% of their land. If the sea level rise continues up to six meters, then one third of all land areas. The research team at the University of Arizona has developed maps of how sea level rise could affect the entire coastline. They also have detailed maps for individual cities and metropolitan regions. The sea-level rise is going to cause impacts such as erosion, temporar flooding, and permanent inundation. The sea level rise affects not only the oceanfront proerty and bust also the inland properties. Inland properties that are connected to the ocean by channels, inlets, creeks, and adjacent low-lying areas. For example, Washington DC is not my the ocean; however, the Potomac River is an inland extension of the ocean.

24 Rooms packed into one tiny room!

As part of the green movement this architect designed a very green home. Check out this video!

Is Global Warming Causing More, Larger Wildfires?

Fire is an important process for recycling dead biomass in the arid west, where natural decomposition rates are extremely slow (historical repeat photography has shown untreated wooden fenceposts still intact after 100 years). However, this benefit is balanced by the annual damages in the western United States from wildfires that have exceeded $1.0 billion in 6 of the past 15 years.
Since 1986, longer, warmer summers have resulted in a fourfold increase of major wildfires and a sixfold increase in the area of forest burned, compared to the period from 1970 to 1986. A similar increase in wildfire activity has been reported in Canada from 1920 to 1999. Could this increase be due to Global warming?
A. L. Westerling took to studying 1166 wildfires ranging over 400ha. He found that the length of the active wildfire season (when fires are actually burning) in the western United States has increased by 78 days, and that the average burn duration of large fires has increased from 7.5 to 37.1 days. Based on comparisons with climatic indices that use daily weather records to estimate land surface dryness, Westerling et al. attribute this increase in wildfire activity to an increase in spring and summer temperatures by ∼0.9°C and a 1- to 4-week earlier melting of mountain snowpacks. Snow-dominated forests at elevations of ∼2100 m show the greatest increase in wildfire activity. In the 34 years studied, years with early snowmelt had five times as many wildfires as years with late snowmelt. High-elevation forests between 1680 and 2690 m that previously were protected from wildfire by late snowpacks are becoming increasingly vulnerable. Thus, four critical factors—earlier snowmelt, higher summer temperatures, longer fire season, and expanded vulnerable area of high-elevation forests—are combining to produce the observed increase in wildfire activity.
n 2002, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and the Interior embarked on a controversial new land management policy called “Healthy Forests,” whose stated objective is to clean out dead and dying trees in the west to reduce the risk of wildfires. This initiative blames increasing wildfire activity in the western United States solely on increasing stand density and the buildup of dead fuel as a result of fire exclusion policies; it does not acknowledge any role of changing climate in recent wildfire trends. In contrast, the analysis of Westerling et al. suggests that observed increased wildfire activity is at least partially the result of a longer wildfire season acting over a larger forested area. This increased wildfire trend correlates with observed higher temperatures and reduced moisture availability.As part of the upcoming 4th Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change , seven general circulation models have run future climate simulations for several different carbon emissions scenarios. These simulations unanimously project June to August temperature increases of 2° to 5°C by 2040 to 2069 for western North America. The simulations also project precipitation decreases of up to 15% for that time period. Even assuming the most optimistic result of no change in precipitation, a June to August temperature increase of 3°C would be roughly three times the spring-summer temperature increase that Westerling et al. have linked to the current trends. Wildfire burn areas in Canada are expected to increase by 74 to 118% in the next century, and similar increases seem likely for the western United States.

Wildfires add an estimated 3.5 × 1015 g to atmospheric carbon emissions each year, or roughly 40% of fossil fuel carbon emissions. If climate change is increasing wildfire, as Westerling et al. suggest, these new sources of carbon emissions will accelerate the buildup of greenhouse gases and could provide a feed-forward acceleration of global warming.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Glaciers are DISAPPEARING!

One of the most noticeable effects of climate change is the melting of glaciers around the world. These expansive ice sheets have been monitored since the late 19th century. Through increased technology in both aerial and satellite photography after World War II, enough data has been collected to determine that the melting and retreating of glaciers has been occurring since at least 1980. Currently there are between 150,000 to 200,000 glaciers which are all being reduced due to the increase of atmospheric temperature. This increase has caused glaciers to melt and retreat upslope at an average rate of 10 meters per year. While many effects of climate change are not easily understood or observed, many people use glaciers as a key example due to the fact that the cause and effect relationship is easy to understand; increased temperature causes glacial ice to melt. This phenomena was first recognized by the public through large scale examples of glacial melt at popular tourist attractions such as Mr. Kilimanjaro and Glacier National Park. When a dead body was found in a melting glacier in the Alps, authorities thought it was a hiker. In reality the man had died and laid there for thousands of years, only to be uncovered after the ice melted.

Consequences of retreating and melting glaciers are very straightforward. If glaciers continue to melt sea level will rise, water resources will be threatened, natural hazards will increase, and landscapes will be changed. Sea level rise will flood coastal regions and continue to force coastal dwellers to move inland. Glacial melt contributed to 27% of a 15cm sea rise in the 20th century and the amount of water from glaciers will increase as atmospheric temperature continues to rise and cause melting. While many view glacial melting as having a positive effect on large order streams, the water level actually only rises for a short time. If glaciers continue to melt, people who live in the high regions of watersheds and rely on glacial melt water will no longer have resources to irrigate their fields or produce energy through hydroelectric power. Futher, natural hazards continue to increase as unstable lakes form from melt water at the bottom of glaciers. A small disturbance causes the glacial till to break free producing rock slides, mudslides, and flooding downhill. As a result of changing landscapes due to glaciers disappearing, economic and cultural losses are occurring because of loss of tourism and aesthetic beauty.

In order to promote change and try to adapt to the changing environment, many different methods have been attempted. Before and after pictures provide an excellent tool to promote awareness of glacial melting. As an adaptation to the melting glaciers, many resorts in the Alps spread foam or cloth coverings on glaciers to protect them during the summer which helps to promote skiing during colder months. In British Columbia artificial snow is used or snow from higher elevations is often pushed down slope to supplement snow at lower elevations. This movement of snow causes ice to be depleted from higher elevations and melt more quickly because it was moved to a warmer temperature. The National Ski Association is using a less effective method to help reduce the problem of melting glaciers. They are currently offering discounts for customers who carpool or purchase carbon offsets. While this is only making an infinitesimal impact, it is raising awareness and benefits for putting less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Glaciers are only a fraction of the earth that are being effected negatively by climate change and any reduction in carbon dioxide, however small it may seem, could help to reduce their disappearance.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Key Pollinators Disappearing - Bad News for Plants

Bumblebee populations in the U.S. have been vanishing over the past few decades. The bees are an important part of our ecosystem. Along with pollinating the beautiful flowers of the world, bees play a major role in pollinating our crops. The bumblebee is an especially good pollinator because since it is larger in size it can handle and pollinate in more harsh weather than other bees (ex: honeybee). Bumblebees also "buzz-pollinate" where thay can rapidly vibrate and release more pollen.

Many of the species previously common in certain areas are not present anymore. This caused a survey team to go out and collect 16, 788 bumblebees to study 4 out of nearly 50 species local to the U.S. The results were devastating. One of the species' population had appeared to diminish by 96%! The ranges of the four species had shrunk from 23-87%

What ever could be the cause for this detrimental loss? It is thought that things such as agricultural damage where farmers have increased filed areas could be the explanation. From those collected it seems that a parasite has been doing most of the damage. In those populations diminishing, the parasite had an infection rate of 37%. The four species studied were closely related so they could be genetically susceptible to harm from the parasite. From here all that can be done is further studying to narrow down the causes for the losses and to try to curb the bumblebee populations in an upward direction.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Antarctica and Australia: Climatically Related?

One may ask, "How can the hot sandy continent of Australia and the cold wintery continent of Antarctica be connected in relation to climate?" Researchers have noticed a trend between the two when it comes to weather patterns. When Australia is going through a rough drought spell, Antarctica is having a blazing snow storm. When one area is having extreme weather occurrence, so is the other. It was the harsh drought and heavy snowstorm occurring at the same time that caught scientists' eye for further investigation.

Study has been going on from the ice cores within the Law Dome ice field in Antarctica for the past 30 years. It is almost directly south from the bottom tip of Australia. It was when researchers compared the records of snowfall from the past 750 years with the meteorological records of precipitation that the realization occurred. The researchers found that 40% of rainfall variation records in Australia matched the snow falls in Antarctica. These patterns have intensified over the past few decades. With both continents receiving these unusual weather patterns, it surely outlies the range of natural variation. What was the main cause for this relationship in drastic weather patterns? The answer is human activity and it is continuously increasing the strength of the connection.

With reduced ozone and increased amounts of carbon dioxide, this creates an atmospheric circulation pattern in the ocean that brings drier air to the lower farming regions of Australia and heavier snowfall to the top of Antarctica. It is very unlikely that these unusual weather patterns would just be happening at the same time that humans are also causing out of the normal climate change.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Water Shortages Due To Climate Change

Water Shortages Due To Climate Change

According to a new study 70 percent of counties in the United States may face climate change-related risks to their water supplies by 2050. The conclusions are based on climate modeling, predicted precipitation, historical drinking water consumption as well as water use by industry and for electrical generation. States at the highest risk include Arizona, California, Nevada and Texas as well as parts of Florida. Similar reports concluded that parts of Asia and South America would also face water shortages in areas that are supplied by melting ice caps and glaciers. The main points of these articles are that rising temperatures mean that not only will there be more rain and less snow in the mountains, but also that snow will melt earlier in the year, resulting in rivers and streams carrying more water, much earlier than normal. Therefore, in areas that are not capable of capturing this early snow melt will lose the water to the ocean. Areas that are dependent upon water from glaciers will also be affected by the high temperatures, especially developing countries if their water infrastructure is weak. In addition to the western United States and Canada, hard-hit regions include parts of Europe, South America west of the Andes, and much of central Asia from northern India across to China and Russia. About one-sixth of the world's population (over 1 billion people) inhabit these areas. The regions at risk also account for about a quarter of the world's economic output. Policy makers need to take all this information into consideration and begin preparing for this event by evaluating new types of infrastructure and new ways to use water resources more efficiently.

The city of San Francisco gets its water from snow melt stored in the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Los Angeles gets most of its water from the Colorado River, which relies on Rocky Mountain snowfall. Phoenix, Denver, and Salt Lake City all get all or most of their water from snowmelt. San Diego purchases water from the Sacramento River which is fed from the Sierra snow pack. The Fresno metropolitan area has traditionally pumped water from deep artesian wells, but as the aquifer drops and is polluted by agricultural chemicals, the close to a million people in this area have started to compete directly with agriculture for an increasing share of the melt water. Hotter drier summers also affect water availability by increasing the rate of evaporation from the reservoirs (it is currently estimated that about 10% of stored water is lost) at the same time that crops demand more water to survive.

This video link discusses possible water shortages on a local level, specifically in San Diego:


Bt Cotton: A GMO

GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISM!!! Many people when they hear this term automatically think the worst and will not even think twice about buying the product. Because they have not been properly educated about what this term means, many people are afraid of the possible effects of genetically modifying an organism. People don’t understand the possible benefits that could come with altering the genetics of an organism to help boost yield or to reduce the amounts of pesticides needed to control pests on the crops. They just hear the term “genetically modified organism” and refuse to have any part in it.

There have been many commercially important genetically modified organisms produced that have reduced the need for so many pesticides and other chemicals that are used on crop fields. One crop in particular that was developed was Bt cotton. In this strain, a gene from the bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis, was inserted into the cotton. The gene allows for insecticidal crystal proteins to be formed which can keep harmful insects from feasting on the plant.

In one study in India, it has been found that there have been positive as well as negative effects of using the genetically modified cotton strain. One positive is that the farms that are using the Bt cotton have been seeing higher yields than those farms using non GM cotton. They also have been able to reduce the use of pesticides throughout their crop fields. Although there have been higher yields and less pesticide use on the farms using the Bt cotton, there have been some other negative effects that the farmers did not foresee when planting these cotton strains.

Possible problems in long-term farm management efforts may have been uncovered in the recent study in India. Non-target pests, pests not affected by the Bt, have seen a drastic rise in population numbers. Because the farmers are not using as many pesticides, there has been an increase in populations of pests that are resistant to or are not affected by the Bt toxin.

In my opinion, genetically modified organisms are going to be a good thing in the future. It just may take a while for them to be fully figured out and to determine the possible effects of introducing them into the environment. Modifications to these organisms could have many benefits for agriculture and it could be very useful for boosting future crop yields as well as controlling more pests. We just need to figure out how to effectively manage the crops and the pests and all the other farm factors at the same time.

Ethanol Corn Approved

On February 11th, the U.S. agriculture Department made it possible for farmers to plant corn that will be specifically for boosting ethanol production. The genetically modified seed, Enogen, will produce alpha-amylase (an enzyme that can rapidly break down starch into sugar). This approval will allow farmers to generate more gallons of ethanol than previously.

Since 2005 the USDA has been conducting assessments on the seed. They looked at the effects on both the environment and the plant pest risk. They have deemed that the type of corn "should no longer be subject to regulation."

However, grain millers and food manufactures are worried. While the amylase trait was deemed in 2007 to be safe for use in foods, they are worried that it will affect the quality and shelf-life of the products. They fear that the amylase trait in Enogen will be able to escape and then co-mingle with the corn intended for human consumption. According to the North American Millers' Association, "if the amylase trait enters the food processing stream, it will damage the quality of breakfast cereals, snack foods, and battered products."

Data shows that just one kernel of Enogen out of 10,000 is enough to affect the viscosity in food processes. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) "contamination could cause corn snack foods to be too fluffy to fit in a standard bag, corn batter to be too thin to coat corn dogs, and corn bread to be too soggy in the middle."

The company that manufactures Enogen is working to limit the number of ethanol plants and corn growers for the current year. They will be preparing for large-scale commercial planting of Enogen corn in 2012. According to the company, Syngenta, they will manage the production of Enogen corn by using a contracted, closed production system.

According to the UCS "there is no way to protect food corn crops from contamination by ethanol corn. Even with the most stringent precautions, the wind will blow and standards slip."
A bill passed by Congress in 2007, Renewable Fuel Standard, requires the consumption of 36 billion gallons of ethanol by 2022. Ethanol from corn is expected to supply close to 15 billion gallons of the total 36 million.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Reduction in Need for Irrigation in Agriculture

Today, freshwater water is quickly becoming one of the most sought after resources especially for agriculture. In arid climates irrigation and the ability to maintain hearty crops are intimately intertwined and many cultures in these dry climates survive solely on their ability to produce a strong crop. Agriculture is often difficult there because droughts strike without notice and cause the ultimate demise of a farmer's livelihood. A recent study has been performed on the application of silicon to agricultural fields. This type of fertilizer should reduce the need to supplement droughts with irrigation, ultimately reducing the amount of freshwater used in agriculture.

In Africa and Asia, sorghum (Sorghum bicolor), a type of cereal grass, is an important crop and is greatly effected by low amounts of rainfall. Studies in the past have been conducted on some crops in order to find a way to increase the uptake of water with the application of fertilizers. Nitrogen has been added to soybeans ultimately increasing its drought tolerance. Phosphorus has been applied to sorghum, bean, and white clover changing their root characteristics and ability to uptake water. Drought tolerance in pearl millet and hibiscus have been increased by the addition of potassium to their agricultural fields. Antioxidant activity has been increased in liquorice by the addition of calcium. While all of these nutrient fertilizers are nutrients essential for growth, researchers were in search of an additional nutrient that could increase drought tolerance. Ultimately, scientist named silicon as the nutrient in question and aimed to discover if it had drought avoidance characteristics for sorghum.

In the past, silicon was proven to accumulate in endodermal tissue of sorghum and rice. These results of previous studies suggest that silicon plays an important role in water transport or root growth in drought conditions. This study was conducted on two different cultivators or sorghum that had different drought susceptibility. The conclusion of the study proved that when silicon was added to sorghum in drought conditions, the harmful effects of the drought were reduced and when it was added during wet conditions, no changes were seen. When silicon was applied to sorghum in drought conditions, the plants could extract a larger amount of water from dry soil and maintain a high stomata conductance.

The discovery of a nutrient that is not essential to growth which increases the ability of a plant to uptake water could prove to be important in agriculture. While fertilizers added to fields often drain into waterways and cause algal blooms ultimately creating dead zones in important water systems, silicon would not. Further, this nutrient could help to reduce the need for excessive amounts of irrigation to occur on agricultural fields in arid climates and even temperate climates. Research is continuing to be conducted on this new method of field fertilizer application and the results could prove to be important for water conservation and agriculture.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wheat Genetic Gain Leveling Off

Wheat has been an important part of American history for years. It is a key food in the diets of many and is a very flexible and reliable food source. Recent study has found that wheat is no longer genetically diversifying like it used to. The genetic adjustments that had increased wheat yield in the past, has nearly come to a standstill. Farmers are now having issues trying to figure out how to more effectively breed and produce wheat to feed our ever - growing population.

With nearly 68 million metric tons of wheat harvested every year in the U.S., it is vital to find a new way to increase and expand this amount. The article mentioned that there are two possibile ways to do this. The first way is to change farming practices. Farmers would have to increase harvested produce. The second way is to breed wheat in a way that it becomes mature at desired times and fights against fungal infections.

With geneticist research, it has been discovered that genetic gain has been slowing since the 1980s, and has now halted. What is the reason behind all of this? Pathogens are a main contributor to the standstill. They are evolving more rapidly than breeders can keep up with and are getting out of control. Outside of the research, another geneticist had blamed genetic bottlenecks for the plateau in genetic gain. To increase yield, "dwarfing" genes were breed so that the plants could use more energy to produce grain. This is good in the short run because it gives more produce at a faster rate. In the long run though, non-dwarf varieties have been discarded and pushed aside which has greatly restricted the gene pool. A similar bottleneck has also been observed when choosing varieties that are resistant to particular pathogens. This ignores other varieties that are not so resistant.

So why not directly alter the DNA of wheat to program it to grow effectively and increase crop yields? It's not that easy. The wheat genome is very complex and the people do not like the sound nor are they open to genetically modified foods. Although the halt in wheat improvement is declining and is a concern, it is not yet a major issue. Until GMOs are more acceptable, better producing practices are the key to making more wheat.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Wind Generating Electricity.. Who would have thought?

In the past, there have been several efforts to come up with different ways to harness energy from other sources and to turn it into usable energy. Wind farms are used to capture wind energy and turn it into other forms of usable energy. These wind farms have seen a big push lately to find newer, more efficient ways to use the wind energy to generate electricity. Turbines, which look like huge fans, are used to generate electricity using wind energy.

One study looked at the ways that the massive turbines can be arranged so that they can have more efficient use of the wind energy. They took a look at the spacing and placement of the turbines and determined the more efficient ways to place them. They were trying to determine how far apart the turbines should be placed in light of not only cost efficiency but also of efficient energy generation. The placement of these turbines would help to bring more energy from higher altitudes and to generate more wind movement so that more wind energy can be used to generate electricity.

This research could be very important for future wind farms and how they are set up. It is important that people not only look at cost efficiency but they also look at the most effective way to use the wind energy to generate electricity. This was one of the main goals of this study. The researchers also suggested further studies on the effects of temperature on these wind farms and how temperature differences could affect efficiency.

Source: Science Daily

Monday, February 7, 2011

Eating insects 'could cut greenhouse gas emissions'

A little girls asks her mom, "what's for dinner tonight?" Her mom answers, "How about crickets?" While you may expect to hear this in a developing country, there is a chance you may one day hear this in your own house.
Researchers are looking at the possibility of farming insects such as crickets, locusts, and cockroaches for food. According to the researchers, this new dining menu could ease both climate change and food insecurity. Farming of the insects on a large scale has far less damage on the environment. The emissions of cattle and pigs versus insects was studied. Scientists looked at the greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide because these have a greater warming effect than carbon dioxide. The ammonia production, which harms the environment by acidifying the soil and water, was also measured. Insects emitted 80 times less methane than cattle when compared weight for weight. Crickets emitted 8-12 times less ammonia than pigs.
According to the lead author of the study, 80% of the world's population dines on insects. Mealworms, locusts, and crickets are consumed all over the world. Cockroaches and sun beetles, which people do not eat, are a great source of protein and are being included in the study. The co-author of the study, Arnold van Huis, is encouraging insects as an alternative to cattle because "I don't think we can continue eating beef like we did in the past and the FAO has already predicted that in 2050 it will become so expensive no-one [will be able to] pay for it any more."
Critics point out that the farming of insects is subject to seasonal variation and therefore may only be farmed in a few countries. Monica Ayieko, a family and consumer economist at Maseno University, said "the 'Westernisation' of diets could pose an obstacle to encouraging consumption." Another critic worries that raising insects on a large scale is just inviting disaster. "If such insects are reared in millions and if they escape into nature, the entire world would face hunger."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable farming is a way to meet the needs of people today while ensuring the ability for future generations to meet their needs as well. Air, water, land and animal resources are being negatively affected by current industrial, large-scale farming practices. Sustainable farming offers a way for large scale operations to change their practices to preserve these essential natural resources for the future. In order for a farm to be considered sustainable it must have the following characteristics: conservation and preservation, biodiversity, animal welfare, economically viable, and socially just.

Conservation and preservation are the two facets of sustainable agriculture that are most often thought of. These practices involve taking natural resources from the land and then putting them back in. A large component of this is keeping animal manure in the area it was produced and making sure that it does not pollute the area. In large production farms, manure is mixed with water and held in lagoons. From these lagoons, the manure water is transported and sprayed onto cropland. By spreading manure onto fields, farmers are also spreading heavy metals such as zinc, copper, chromium, arsenic, cadmium, and lead. Concentrations of these heavy metals will cause farmland to become unproductive, the land will be put out of use and wasted. Further, manure often leaks from the holding lagoons and carries antibiotics, heavy metals and growth hormones with it into nearby waterways. This pollution causes an imbalance in local streams and ponds and can cause loss of biodiversity in these precious areas.

While manure is a large component of pollution, methane gas and hydrogen sulfide are excreted in large amounts from farms. These gases have been attributed to increasing the effects of global warming. Other chemical misuse includes overuse of pesticides, which leak into waterways, and the excessive use of water. Large scale farms are depleting the fossil waters in many western states which has led to less water for households. Finally, cropland is being depleted by farms only producing one type of soil. When the nutrients are depleted from the soil, more chemicals are added to the soil to replenish them. Instead of constantly depleting the soil and artificially replenishing it, rotating crops to add nutrients through natural processes can be completed. Sustainable farming supports farming that removes all of the negative effects listed above and instead works to farm in a way that is harmonious with the environment.

It is important to maintain biodiversity in sustainable farming because it preserves resources for future generations. By maintaining biodiversity natural processes such as pest control by natural predators, pollination, decomposition, and strong genetic diversity will survive. There has been a large decrease in the numbers of domestic breeds and crop diversity because the genetic diversity has also decreased. A example of this is the potato famine that occurred during the 1840s. Potatoes of only one variety were farmed and when a fungus hit, all of the crop was destroyed. By interbreeding animals to increase the amount of meat on their bodies, their genetic code is becoming less and less diverse. This decrease in diversity is causing weaker species and causing many breeds to die out. If we continue to interbreed domestic animals, it is possible that future generations will have less and less animals to work with. It is a dangerous practice. Pollution from large scale farms is also dangerous and causing a decrease in biodiversity for future generations. Sustainable farming works to maintain genetic diversity by having different breeds on farms and works to lower pollution.

The final three components of sustainable farming include being kind treatment of animals, economically viable, and socially just. Kind treatment of animals supports keeping animals in good living conditions, transporting them safely, and humane slaughtering. Economics of large farms compared to large farms in supporting local communities is very different. Large farms make much more money than small farms but only 20% of their money is put back into local communities while large farms put 95% in. Further, large farms have a large output per worker while small farms have a higher output of crops per acre. The final facet of sustainable farming is social justice. Those farms that are sustainable have competitive salaries for their employees and provide them with good working and living conditions. Sustainable farming is a practice that can be, and should be, attained by both small and large farms in order to provide the ability for the needs of future generations to be met.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Effects of Global Warming on Agriculture

We already know several impacts of global warming on the environment. These include the melting of polar ice caps (increasing sea level), an increase in the amount of precipitation on a global level and the effects these events have on animal populations. A recent study found that if carbon emissions and greenhouse gases are not substantially reduced, then a serious decline in crop productivity will be seen. From the article, there seems to be a significant difference in expected effects to developing countries versus rich countries. Rich countries tend to have lower average temperatures where developing countries tend to have higher average temperatures. As these temperatures increase, they rise above crop tolerances making it very difficult to grow a sufficient amount of food. For example, India already has an average temperature of 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit), and with that temperature expected to rise in the next 50 years it is not ideal for growing crops. Experts predict a 30-40% decrease in productivity in India alone. Overall agricultural productivity for the entire world is projected to decline 3-16% in the next 50 years if the levels of greenhouse gases continues to rise as it is now.
So along with global warming comes increased temperatures which will potentially cause a decrease in crop output. To combat this we need better agriculture technology and techniques to offset the climate change. Many things need to be considered when trying to use technology to solve this problem. First, the demand for food is going to continue to increase as the global population increases. Second, crops are used for other things besides food sources. We've already seen the effects of using grain for bio-fuels instead of food. So with additional investment into crop production the effects of climate change can be managed, however, the additional technology used will cost more money which will increase the cost it takes to grow the food. So either way we're going to see an increase in crop prices.

For more information of the causes and effects of climate change:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Clean Streets and Intact Road Surfaces Help to Keep the Air Clean

It is well known that cars are a main cause of atmospheric pollution. However, the emissions coming from your tailpipe aren’t always the biggest contributor. When the weather situation favors the creation of winter smog, tailpipe emissions account for less than half of the fine particulate pollution from your car. The majority of this pollutant is produced by mechanical wear and resuspension of dust due to air turbulence from passing vehicles.
The fine particle matter released by combustion processes, and mechanical wear, and that thrown up again swirling air can no longer move into the higher layers of the atmosphere, with the result that the concentration at ground level increases. Working together with the Road Engineering / Sealing Components Laboratory, the atmospheric specialists developed a new measuring method using Empa's Traffic Load Simulator. This machine is normally used to investigate the time-accelerated resistance to wear of road surfaces under extreme load conditions.
The results of the study showed that in urban area debris from vehicle brakes contributes about 20% of the fine particle emissions from road traffic because of the regular nature of traffic flow. Damaged roads surfaces, on the other hand, can result in quite high fine particle emission levels. What this means is that keeping roads as clean as possible and in good repair makes a significant contribution to reducing the problem of fine particulate emissions.

Empa. "Clean streets and intact road surfaces help to keep the air clean." ScienceDaily 1 February 2011. 1 February 2011 .