Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Dam Removal: Restoring Aquatic Life in the Penobscot River

The Penobscot River is home to many aquatic species, such as salmon, shad, strgeon, alewives, and eels (Bidggod, 2013). These species all play a critical role in their ecosystem; they provide food for many other species, and they created industry such as fisheries. Many of these crucial species that were once abundant, have been pushed to endangerment in recent decades.
The decline in fish started when dams were built in the Penobscot. Thirty foot dams such as the Veazie Dam (picture below) and several others make it increasingly hard for fish to make it up river to their spawning grounds (Miller, 2015). If the fish do not make it to their spawning grounds it is likely that they will die before they can replace themselves.

            Dam removal projects such as the one in the Penobscot work to restore the natural state of the waterway. The project in Maine began in 1999, and it was led by the Penobscot River Restoration Trust (Bidgood, 2013). The project required emhense cooperation between the state and federal government, a power company, and the Penobscot Indian Nation (Tercek, 2012); overall it cost upwards of $60 million (Carpenter, 2012)
Dam removal has provided over 1,000 miles of open river habitat. This has drastically increased
 fish population size in just a few years. Since the removal alewives, American shad and other aquatic species are rising in numbers. Fish sampling has estimated a 45-fold increase since 2013 (Miller, 2015).
The shortnose sturgeon is a unique species of fish present in the Penobscot. It is characterized by its bony body and is capability to live over 50 years. Problems such as overharvesting, loss of habitat, and pollution led to the fish being placed on the endangered species list in 1967. The take down of the Veazie Dam and the Great Works Dam has given the shortnose sturgeon access to 100% of its historic habitat. Since the dam removals, the species has been found up stream in habitat it hasn’t had access to in over 100 years (University of Main, 2015).
Furthermore, the Penobscot is one of the few rivers left that is home to the Atlantic Salmon. Since dam removal population size has fluctuated greatly. The year after removal was and all time low for the specie, but the following year in 2013 the species was approximated to be 726 salmon (Miller, 2015). This is not a ideal population size, but it does show growth. The lack of flourishing could be due to the salmon’s complicated life cycle. As the diagram below shows, salmon have many stages of life and can take several years to come in shore to reproduce. Even if the population size has not shown much growth yet it could very likely be caused by a lag in its life cycle.
            This is one of the largest dam removal projects to take place so far. In just a few short years fish populations have improved exceptionally. Many hope that the positive results of this project will lead to other dam removals nationally.
       On a global scale, many countries that are less developed have not yet built dams. With the knowledge that has been gained from these removal projects hopefully any furthur dam building can be prevented.    


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Earth’s Application to Renewable and Green Energy

In the midst of obvious climate change; up-rise in seismic activity, global population reaching unmanageable numbers, and mass animal extinction, it is pretty evident that our world is changing. As humans we have either adapted or died. One of the more pressing issues concerning these matters is that of energy. For hundreds of years humans have used nonrenewable energy in the form of burning organic carbon. Like the earth, we are approaching a time of change in the ways we harvest energy. Ways that are less damaging to the environment and more conservative in production.

A remedy to the Earth’s migraines can be biological organisms from the Earth itself. Several viable options as a source of renewable energy include algal harvestations in the production of biofuel, lignocellulose in the production of second generation biofuels, bioelectrochemical systems (BES) which can convert organic waste into energy with microbial fuel cells (MFCs) or microbial electrolysis cells (MECs), and harnessing energy from the natural constant motion of oceanic currents. All of these options as well as numerous others have great potential to positively impact our world.

Unfortunately with the continued drop of oil costs, it is difficult for countries with the technologies to look into these possible solutions to allocate funds for that purpose.  Soon we will run out of fossil fuels and need to adapt and rely on more ecofriendly renewable resources or die from a lack of energy to sustain our comfortable lifestyles.

Microalgae have been shown to be converted directly to useable energy in the form of biofuel. Because of their many advantages as a sustainable feed stock for biodiesel production and their lack of competition with food crops, microalgae are a potential source to produce third generation biodiesel (Ahmad, 2011). They are very promising as a sustainable contribution toward reducing climate change; however their production needs more research to identify the most suitable microalgae species and improve their oil yield, more specifically on the biosynthesis of algal lipids, triglycerides, and fatty acids. Furthermore recent studies have found that microorganisms in the production of biofuel show a better yield on solid state fermentation of lignocellulosic biomass using the enzyme cellulose and celluloytic microorganisms to depolymerize cellulose into fermentable sugars (Sudhanshu, 2015).
Figure 1.1 Cycle of Algal Energy

BESs are naturally occurring systems within MFCs and MECs with the capability to convert chemical energy from organic waste in the form of wastewater and lignocellulosic biomass into useable electricity. Although on a micro scale, in large quantities useable energy can be harvested. Alluring benefits of BESs include operating in mild conditions, no need for precious metal catalysts, and the ability to use a wide range of organic substrate (Pant, 2011). Research is still needed to achieve useful production of energy but from current data wastewater treatment seems to be the most realistic approach (Wang, 2015). It would not only assist in the purification of the water but the production of useable energy as well. 

Figure 1.2 Model of Microbial Fuel Cells
The oceans hold vast amounts of potential energy in the form of their constant movement of waves and tides. Prospective models of implemented harnessing techniques have already been constructed as well as forecasted energy potentials for many regions of the world (Uihlein, 2015). Unfortunately issues such as conflict with competing use of the marine environment such as fishing, shipping, offshore wind, habitat protection, and grid connection has limited the progress of these technologies. The next step in the realization of these technologies is research into the economic and social impacts of oceanic energy. Broad coast analysis’ including grid integration, energy security, and predictions of future costs in maintenance and operation are still necessary for any forward progress. The ocean energy industry has made significant progress in recent years but is still at very early stage with some advanced prototypes that are currently being tested.

Figure 1.3 Wave Turbines
The burning of fossil fuels have caused evident damage to our earth in the forms of global warming, habitat depletion, and lowered air quality. Perhaps some of this damage can be mended and possibly reversed with natural energy sources already present on Earth such that don't emit harmful gasses or contaminants.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Where’s the Buzz? Reason for Honeybees’ Population Decline

The honeybee, Apis mellifera, is responsible for the pollination of flowering plants that make up roughly one third of the human diet (1).  In total, the honeybee makes $200 billion worth of food globally (2).  As important as these insects are, the honeybee populations are slowly dying off.  However, there is not one clear cut answer as to what is causing the bee decline but there is a lot of buzz surrounding the problem.  The first suspect is lack of flowers due to urbanization and destruction of natural habitat (1).  Bees are able to adapt by searching for other types of flowers, but it can also lead them to gravitate toward flowers with pesticides or diseases (1). In a similar vein, climate change is also a contributor to the death of bees preferred flowers and disease caused by parasites because warmer temperatures are allowing them to thrive (1). 
A varroa mite attached to the back of the honeybee
Source: 1
The varroa mite, a parasitic mite, is an increasing problem for the bees (3). The mite attaches itself to the adult bee and feeds on the host’s blood, thus making the host weak and susceptible to disease (3).  Bee keepers turned to a low dose of pesticides to help the fight against the mites, but bee keepers risk killing the bee.  Extensive research has been performed to breed queen bees with a grooming behavior in hopes the bees will be able to remove the mites themselves (3).  However, the challenge remains in keeping the self-grooming from mating with normal bees and reversing the progress made (3). Although progress is being made to help the bees continue the fight against the varroa mite, it still remains a huge problem for  beekeepers and hives alike.
The final suspect is a specific type of pesticides called the neonicotinoids.  These pesticides are known to linger in the environment and grow with the plant that it coats.  In doing so, bees carry the nectar laced with the neonicotinoids back to the hive.  The neonicotinoids have sickened both the hive and the queen bee which exert serious detrimental effects (4).  The queen bee is responsible for reproduction in the hive but neonicotinoids have caused queens to produce less offspring and are overall weaker than a normal queen, according to a recent research article published by Nature (4).  Due to the effects of neonicotinoids, two years ago, European Union banned the use of these pesticides to curb the declining bee population (5).  Recent studies in the European Union have suggested neonicotinoids are not the sole cause of the decreasing bee population because the hive compensates for the loss by producing more offspring (5).  

A farmer sprays the crops with a pesticide
Source: 1
In addition, the United States’ EPA also found inconclusive research that neonicotinoids are the primary reason due to some hives being greatly affected but did not affect other hives (2).In the United States, neonicotinoid use is not banned, despite public outcry (1). The European Union as of 2015 lifted their ban on the pesticide for an emergency application on oilseed rape crops but still regulated by the EU commission (5).  Although both the United States and European Union want to help the bee population, inconclusive evidence and pressure from the agricultural industry are permitting the use of the pesticide.
    With several different reasons being brought to the table, it is tremendously difficult to pin down a sole reason for the decline.  Issues such as climate change and loss of habitat are on-going problems which both people and bees are combating against.  Parasites are another reason that are killing the honeybees.  Pesticides pose a significant problem because its use leads to weaker queens and hive.  Despite this, research is inconclusive in whether or not the neonicotinoid use is the cause. Both policy makers and researchers around the globe are fervently working together to save the bees by banning pesticides and carefully breeding stronger queens.  After all, the symbiotic relationship with the bees is valuable and deserves to be protected.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Staggering Outlook on the Current Effects of Deforestation

     Deforestation is killing the earth in more ways than one. This is truly a global threat.                
            It’s happening right now, somewhere in the world, as you read this: deforestation. Forest loss is a major issue across the globe today and the effects of it have only just begun. We do not appreciate the environmental balance forests provide. Forests control precipitation patterns, absorb CO2, and allow for greater biodiversity –yet, deforestation has increased with weaker regulations and popular demand for products such as those produced from Palm oil.
            Indeed, forests are directly involved in delivering dependable precipitation. Trees draw up water from the soil and transpire it into the atmosphere. The Amazon rainforest transpires 20 billion tons of water every day. Water in the atmosphere exhibits “biotic pumping” by creating a low pressure system that pumps moisture from the ocean inland. Deforestation damages this system and shuts down the “pump.” In Brazil, this has led to widespread drought. However, it doesn’t stop there--deforestation in the Amazon could potentially cause droughts in places like California, as Texas and New Mexico are already experiencing increased droughts. Changing the water cycle enough in the Amazon could shift global weather patterns, which in turn would lead to climate instability.
            Additionally, if deforestation continues at its current rate, over 100 gigatons of carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere by 2050. Normally, forests act as carbon sinks by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen to purify our air. K Valentine cites a study that suggests putting a price on carbon to cut the rate of deforestation and benefit the climate. It is a relatively low-cost method of reducing overall emissions for countries--especially if wealthier countries paid tropical countries not to cut trees.
            Deforestation is destroying the world’s biodiversity. Take, for instance, the orangutan whose numbers were 230,000 a hundred years ago. Today, less than 50,000 remain due to forest loss in Southeast Asia. In 25 years orangutans could be an extinct species in the wild as their survival is wholly dependent on the fate of the rainforests.
            When compared with undisturbed forests, those that are disturbed have a strong loss in biodiversity. The lower species diversity in disturbed locations does suggest that many species can only inhabit pristine locations. Interestingly, some disturbed forests can still maintain 80% of the species that are in undisturbed forests--certainly a hopeful discovery. It is crucial that forest reserves be spread out in a network, rather than in one small region. This prevents species from going regionally extinct. Thus, isolated reserves as well as private land already disturbed must be conserved.
            Sadly, the Brazilian Amazon actually experienced a 16% increase in forest loss from August 2014 to August 2015. For almost a decade, deforestation in the region had been on a decline, then two spurts occurred in the past three years. The government’s efforts to combat loss of forest have had little effect. Yet, the government can be to blame for not enforcing regulations and allowing the construction of roads and other infrastructure projects through rainforests. A faltering economy also pressured illegal timbering and clearing of land for livestock and agriculture.
            Whether or not we have participated in cutting down forests, we are still influencing it in many of the products we purchase. Palm oil has become a $44 billion-a-year industry and is the number one cause of forest loss in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries. Palm oil and its derivatives can be found in thousands of products sold across the world--in fact more than half of consumer goods. Unfortunately, since 1990 its consumption has quintupled and its demand is only growing. The U.S. and Europe are among the top consumers. Every hour 300 football fields of rainforest are cleared for palm oil plantations. There is certainly no slowing this industry anytime soon, so the future of Southeast Asia’s forests seems bleak.  

            Clearly our forests are crucial to survival of mankind, wildlife, and really the entire planet. This is a global fight, so we need commitments from tropical nations to reduce greenhouse emissions from deforestation. Additionally, as individuals and consumers, we can change our buying habits and only support products produced with zero contribution to deforestation.

Less meat, less climate change?

Environmentalists all over the world have their sights set on one goal: saving our planet. However, there is not just one way to accomplish this goal. We’ve all heard the various suggestions on how to do our part in reducing our impact on climate change, such as driving an electric car, turning off our lights, and reducing our showering times, but have you ever heard that eating less meat could be more important than all of those? For instance, the amount of water used to shower for two months is equivalent to the amount of water used to produce a single hamburger: 660 gallons of water (Gillam). Convinced yet?
Damian Carrington, a writer for The Guardian, confronts us with a fact that many people are unaware of, which is that “the global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains, and ships combined” (Carrington). Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang conducted a study to discover the levels of “uncounted, overlooked, and misallocated livestock-related GHG emissions” and found that “51% of annual worldwide GHG emissions are caused by livestock and their byproducts.” In fact, livestock and their byproducts actually “account for at least 32,564 million tons of CO2e per year” (Goodland and Anhang). Animal agriculture also accounts for much of the deforestation and land-use occurring around the world. In fact, animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of the Amazon destruction and 45% of earth’s land is covered by livestock (Gillam).  Greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and land-use are some of the main concerns for climate change and if animal agriculture is responsible for such high amounts then obviously changes need to be made.
Meat consumption in Asia is expected to rise with a 116% increase in China and a 138% increase in India between 2006 and 2050 (Casey). This is a major concern because a growing demand for meat will result in increased greenhouse gas emissions, ultimately causing the dangerous effects of climate change to be unavoidable (Casey). If action isn’t taken to stop this increase in meat consumption, agricultural emissions could take up 100% of the carbon budget by the year 2050 (Carrington). Simply said, every other industry would have to impossibly emit no carbon in order to keep our planet from warming an extra 2 degrees.
By switching to a plant-based diet, you can reduce your carbon footprint by 50% by reducing both emissions and land-use because feeding a vegan for a year requires 18 times less land than meat eaters (Gillam).  Reducing meat consumption will not only have a positive impact on the environment, but it will also have a positive impact on human health since there are reports coming out about health issues that could be attributed to consumption of certain meats. You can help your planet and yourself by becoming more aware of your meat consumption and making a few changes.
It is safe to assume that the most effective method of avoiding this unwanted increase in emissions is to reduce meat consumption worldwide. The first step that needs to be taken is raising awareness of the impact animal agriculture has on the environment and human health. This may sound easy, but there are many barriers. Kate Irwin of The Daily Californian informs us that “many of the world’s largest and most famous nonprofit environmental organizations suppress, do not acknowledge or are ignorant of this basic truth” (Irwin). These organizations that are all about protecting the environment aren’t even addressing this problem and that is an issue. On top of that, according to Laura Wellesley of BBC News, governments aren’t addressing this environmental issue either because they fear backlash from the people and they know the public’s awareness of this issue is low so they do not feel the need to do anything (Wellesley). Despite the lack of support that this issue gets from the larger organizations and governments, many environmentalists continue to address the issue on their own. In 2014, Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn took it upon themselves to create a risky documentary, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, to explore the impact that animal agriculture has on our environment and present their own solution to this environmental issue: a plant-based diet (Irwin). So, are you willing to give up some meat for the sake of the planet you live on?