Category Archives: environment

Tiger population falls dramatically in India

A century ago, India’s wild lands were home to about 40,000 tigers. Today, it’s estimated only 1,000 tigers remain as a result of poachers and big game hunters.
The two reserves, Panna and Sariska National Park, no longer have a tiger population.
Many of the tigers have been lost due to Asia’s demand for tiger bones, claws and skin. The animal parts are used in traditional medicines.
Tigers have also died as a result of electric fences, illegal logging and fighting among the few remaining males.
Panna park, once home to 24 tigers, has had no sightings since January.
The Wildlife Institute of India had stated in 2007 that the nation’s tigers were doing well within the reserves but not in the protected forest areas. At that time it was urged though for measures to be taken to save the species.
National Geographic reported in 2007:

“Indian tigers are not entirely down and out,” said Sujoy Banerjee, head of the species conservation program at the Indian branch of the international conservation organization WWF.”But if we don’t wake up now, the only tigers we will see will be at the zoo.”

The number of tigers surveyed that year seemed to differ from conservation groups and the Indian government. It was stated that the government did not want to report that the number of animals had decreased as much as the wildlife groups had indicated.
As the numbers dwindled in 2008 wildlife experts urged the government to save the felines.
BBC reported then:

“It is now time to act and save tigers from human beings. We have to create inviolate areas for tigers and provide modern weapons to forest guards,” conservationist Valmik Thapar told Hindustan Times newspaper.

Valmir Thapar spoke to the Wall Street Journal about the demise of tigers in his native India.

In India, 18 per cent of the land that is left as forest land. As that land degrades, the water supply also degrades. The disappearance of the tiger is a sign of the destruction of the ecosystem, something that has an impact on the entire animal population including humans.
It is becoming doubtful that the tiger population in India can be saved.
Since as far back as 2005 the nation’s forest ministry sent warning bells to the government but the local authorities did not heed them.
Dr Raghu Chundawat, an independent scientist is one of those who has been sounding alarms. He says that the state government is still refusing to listen to the seriousness of the problem.
Ashok Kumar, deputy chair of the Wildlife Trust of India, believes that India can reverse the population decline with the tigers. “The long-term future of the tiger can be saved.”
That hope is echoed by Madhya Pradesh’s forest minister Rajendra Shukla reports the BBC:

“Panna is our only park which has lost on this count,” he says. “Three of state’s reserve forests – Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench – have been adjudged among the best managed tiger reserves in the country.”

That statement though may be overly hopeful. Experts believe that the population is already to small for tigers to have a viable future. Even if the population could right itself the lack of law enforcement stopping poachers puts the situation on a downward spiral. Factoring in the ever expanding human population in the tiger’s habitat brings the chance of survival for this magnificent feline down even lower.
Ireland Online reports:

“The government must address the core problem of sufficient protection.
“Unless heads roll, translocation of animals is not going to help as these too might be lost and the situation will not change,” Mr Bhargav, a member of the National Board for Wildlife in India said.

Argentine Ants Take Over The World

A single mega-colony of ants has been able to filter into much of the world according to scientists. The inter-related colony that have spread across Europe, the United States and Japan refuse to fight each other.
The Argentine ant was first identified in 1866 at Buenos Aires, Argentina by German entomologist Dr. Gustav L. Mayr .

The colony of ants could rival humans when it comes to world domination. They are unwittingly getting help by people in their world growth. The Linepithema humile are native to South America but people have introduced ants to every continent in the world except for Antarctica.

Known for forming large colonies and attacking native animals and crops an Argentine ant colony can span over 3,700 miles. That is the size of the colony that has formed along the Mediterranean coast. There is a 560 mile long colony in California and another large colony that is along the west coast of Japan.

The ants can cause havoc with the ecosystem by killing off native small animals and plants. They are a menace to farmers as they will protect aphids and scale insects from predators and parasitoids. For this protection the ants are rewarded with an excretion known as honeydew.

The fact that these colonies will not fight each other is very rare in the ant world. Researchers testing the ants chemical profile have found that the world-wide colony is from a single colony in South America.

Because the ants are not aggressive with each other they have been able to expand into such large super colonies.

A new colony can be formed with as few as 10 worker ants and a single queen ant.

The Water That Kills in Gujarat

In Gujarat, India the farmers have plenty of water to irrigate their crops. The problem though is that water kills. The residents of this village say that Gujarat Fluorochemicals has poisoned their land.
The water that comes out of the well stinks. On the surface an oily film is visible.

That is the water for the villagers.

Years ago the barren land was filled with crops. Radha, the only female farmer in the village, grew spinach, potatoes and other crops. Now her plants are useless. Cotton fields produce nothing. For a widow with six children that means hunger.

The soil has a white crust. It smells like paint thinner.

The village is overlooking a plant that is owned by Gujarat Fluorochemicals (GFL). The plant makes refrigerant gases for air-conditioners and refrigerators.

The plant was built in 1989. Four years ago it was equipped with technology to reduce the greenhouse gases it produces as part of a worldwide carbon-trading scheme. It is supposed to help with global warming. It failed. Instead it is poisoning the lands that surround it.

That scheme may sound good on paper but the realities are an environment being poisoned as the push for greenhouse gases is emphasized.

Probe International reports:

Veteran anti-dam activist Himanshu Thakkar told a UN conference in Delhi last week that the Clean Development Mechanism – which aims to allow polluters in rich nations credit for emissions reductions they fund in poorer countries – is not reducing India’s greenhouse gas emissions. “We have seen no new technology being used in India and no benefit to anyone but big companies,” he is quoted saying.

India is one of the largest targets for the changes but there is not enough funding to do it properly.

The Centre for Science and Environment, an influential think tank based in Delhi, has also pointed out that “the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was built up over centuries in the process of creating nations’ wealth. This is the natural debt of nations, and they must pay up.”

The soil and water tested in the areas are filled with the very chemicals that the plant produces. The testing was conducted by The Daily Mail.

While the plant is working on changing their greenhouse gases it appears that they are not as concerned about the environmental changes that are taking place in the villages that surround it.

‘The carbon-credits business operates rather like the financial-services industry did,’ says Kevin Smith of campaigning watchdog Carbon Trade Watch.

‘Insufficient scrutiny and transparency, dodgy projects getting money when they shouldn’t be. And we all know the consequences of what happened in financial services. But this is potentially much more serious, because unlike the Government, nature doesn’t do bailouts.’

The factory produces a gas called HFC23. That gas is one of the most dangerous when it comes to global warming. One ton of HFC23 is equivalent to 11,700 tons of carbon. GFL installed new technology to capture and recycle HFC23. That technology has helped pad the pockets of GFL and Ineos.

The UN credit scheme is proving to be very profitable for those involved.

In the last quarter of 2006 GFL made €27 million.

It is being alleged though that those profits are coming with a very high human toll. Water is now caustic. Children are born with birth defects. People stay sick. Children die in their parents arms.

We didn’t have these illnesses before this factory came. When the wind blows the gas this way, mostly at night, it hurts our throats and eyes and burns our crops. We’ve lost six healthy children. They go giddy, they fall and die. We were carrying one child out the door to the hospital and she just died in her mother’s arms.’

Testing of the water shows high levels of fluoride and chloride. All water in the area that was tested was deemed unsafe to drink. The soil had high levels of the same chemicals.

‘High flouride levels cause skeletal fluorosis in which people complain about joint pain, backache and rigid bones,’ environmental specialist Hiral Mehta says. ‘The crop deterioration is another impact. Your tests confirm previous investigations.’

The recession may help slow down help for the villagers. There is less money for the major players to work with. The price of Clean Development Mechanism (CDMs) offsets has slumped by nearly 30% over the last couple of weeks.

Kevin Smith from Carbon Trade Watch says, ‘The carbon market is riddled with projects like GFL. It’s not like this project is the bad apple – the whole barrel is rotten. Time and again we’re seeing evidence of gross injustices being carried out – people being evicted to make way for dams and waste incinerators being built in residential areas. Carbon trading has been the subject of a very slick PR campaign portraying it as the answer to climate change, so investigations such as this are very important.’

Giant Ragweed Strain Could Be Resistant To Herbicide

t could be bad news for allergy sufferers, researchers from Guelph’s Ontario Agricultural College have found a giant ragweed biotype that has shown resistance to the herbicide glyphosate, surviving rates that kill normal weeds in tests.

The results are still in the preliminary stage researchers are stressing.

“We’ve seen a difference in control of this giant ragweed biotype than what is normally expected when sprayed with glyphosate,” said Prof. François Tardif of the Department of Plant Agriculture.

“Glyphosate has become a tool of choice for the control for many weeds, so the appearance of a glyphosate resistant population can complicate management for growers,” added Peter Sikkema, a plant agriculture professor at the University’s Ridgetown Campus, who conducted the research with Tardif.

So far Canada is in the clear from the herbicide resistant weeds but there are eight species confirmed in the United States. Worldwide there are 15 weed species – including giant ragweed – have been confirmed as resistant to glyphosate.

The affected giant ragweed population was discovered in Essex County late last year in a small area of a 580-acre field of Roundup Ready soybeans. The strain was only found in one area scientists stress.

The University of Guelph reports:

“This is a very serious situation,” Sikkema said. “In other jurisdictions, most glyphosate-resistant weeds biotypes have been effectively managed with other herbicides and cultural practices. We’ll continue our research so we can make recommendations to growers on effective control options.”

Google Goes To the Goats

Google is using an old fashion means to combat forest fires around its campus. They have ‘hired’ 200 goats to munch the grass and create buffer zones that firefighters advise dwellers in wildfire zones.

The company also hired a special shepherd named Jen, a border collie, to keep the troops in line. Not only are the goats working for less than most labourers they provide a constant source of free fertilizer.

Google reports:

“We have some fields that we need to mow occasionally to clear weeds and brush to reduce fire hazard,” Google director of real estate and workplace services Dan Hoffman wrote in a posting on the company’s official blog.

“Instead of using noisy mowers that run on gasoline and pollute the air, we’ve rented some goats … to do the job for us (we’re not “kidding”).”

Of course the goats are not free. It actually costs about the same as traditional mowing would but without the use of gas powered mowers that cause a little more pollution.

The goats are not being used in areas where they could wander into a board meeting demanding more money, instead their are employed for peripheral fields.

CNET reports:

“A herder brings about 200 goats and they spend roughly a week with us at Google, eating the grass and fertilizing at the same time,” a post on the official Google blog read. “The goats are herded with the help of Jen, a border collie. It costs us about the same as mowing, and goats are a lot cuter to watch than lawn mowers.”

Study Suggests Lithium Added To Water Supply Will Lower Suicide

A Japanese study suggests that putting the drug lithium into water supplies could reduce suicide. The researchers have called on other countries to study the effects.

The study looked at the lithium levels in drinking water in Oita. The city have a population of more than one million people. In areas where the lithium was highest there was a positive marked difference in suicide deaths. High doses of lithium is used in the treatment of mood disorders.

The team of researchers from universities in Oita and Hiroshima found that even low levels of water with lithium had lower rates of suicide.

Researchers believe that the lower rates may have a cumulative protective effect on the brain after drinking the water for years.

There have been past research on the same subject in the 1980’s. Those results showed the same lower levels of suicide.

Researchers in Japan have asked other countries to research the issue. They have stopped short of suggesting that lithium be added to drinking water elsewhere.

BBC quotes Professor Allan Young of Vancouver’s Institute for Mental Health:

“Large-scale trials involving the addition of lithium to drinking water supplies may then be feasible, although this would undoubtedly be subject to considerable debate. Following up on these findings will not be straightforward or inexpensive, but the eventual benefits for community mental health may be considerable.”

Sophie Corlett, external relations director at mental health charity Mind, agrees that the study deserves more investigation but cautions that adding even trace amounts of the drug needs to be researched throughly because of side effects.

Mexico Hit by 5.6 Magnitude Earthquake

Mexico was rocked by an earthquake on Monday. The quake hit central Mexico with a magnitude of 5.6. It was centered by Chilpancingo, about 130 miles southwest of Mexico City or 50 miles from the resort of Acapulco.
Mexico already reeling from the swine flu is now having to deal with a strong earthquake in the central portion of the nation. The quake was strong enough to sway buildings in Mexico City.

According to Televisa television network Mexico City there are no reports yet of damage or injuries.

Deseret News reports:

“I’m scared,” said Sarai Luna Pajas, a 22-year-old social services worker standing outside her office building moments after it hit. “We Mexicans are not used to living with so much fear, but all that is happening — the economic crisis, the illnesses and now this — it feels like the Apocalypse.”

USGS earthquake analyst Don Blakeman said that the quake was felt in Mexico City is because the epicenter is shallow and the ground under the nation’s capital is built on a former lake bed. This can intensify shock waves.

The quake happened at around noon in Mexico.

U.S. Waterways Carry Drugs From Pharmaceutical Companies

Waterways in the United States are routine dumping grounds for pharmaceutical manufacturers seeping the drugs into drinking water.
The water you may be drinking from your tap could contain a watered-down drug cocktail. That’s the findings of an Associated Press investigation.

The scary truth is no one in the federal government is looking into the issues of US water being contaminated by the runoff from manufacturing medicines.

With no one tracking which pharmaceuticals being dumped into the waterways U.S. manufacturers are free to release a potential environmental and health nightmare at will.

PharmaWater investigation is ongoing research by AP. The investigation found 22 compounds that have shown up in water supplies. Both the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration are supposed to be monitoring the compounds for the American public. There has been a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy regarding these drug companies.

Not only are drug companies to blame for the amount of contamination. Consumers excrete the drugs not absorbed by the body and flush drugs down the toilet.

There are also an estimated 250 million pounds of pharmaceuticals and contaminated packaging discarded each year from medical centers.

It is known that even diluted amounts of drugs can harm wild life. There has been research that shows that human cells fail to grow normally in the laboratory when exposed to trace concentrations of certain drugs. Yet water utilities say their water is safe.

Two chemicals, phenol and hydrogen peroxide, account for 92 percent of the 271 million pounds of what is coming from drug makers and other manufacturers. Both of those chemicals can be toxic and are harmful for the environment.

Pfizer is one of the companies that knows that water contamination has been happening. They are working on reducing the impact their company has on the environment in a negative way.

They are working through their company’s EHS Guideline on Water Conservation requiring their facilities to:

* Review and quantify their water use
* Identify and prioritize water conservation measures
* Develop, implement and report on water conservation action plans and targets
* Support community efforts during drought conditions

The drug companies say that they are in compliance and work to prevent leakage into the water supply.

AP reports:

“Manufacturers have to be in compliance with all relevant environmental laws,” said Alan Goldhammer, a scientist and vice president at the industry trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

When AP asked the companies point blank if they tested the waterways from their plants there was no direct answer.

“Based on research that we have reviewed from the past 20 years, pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities are not a significant source of pharmaceuticals that contribute to environmental risk,” GlaxoSmithKline said in a statement.

While Pfizer says it tests its waste water when investigated further it’s only the waters outside the United States.

“The government could get a national snapshot of the water if they chose to,” said Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, “and it seems logical that we would want to find out what’s coming out of these plants.”

This investigation has to be looked into further. Left unchecked the United States could end up with a situation like that in Patancheru, India where their water is a medical soup.

Ethanol May Require More Water

Ethanol derived from corn requires much more water than was previously thought, according to a study by the researchers at the University of Minnesota. That water need also differs greatly from state to state depending on regional irrigation needs.
Prior studies had said that the water needed to convert one liter of corn-derived into fuel at all stages should be 263 to 784 liters, the newer study changes that theory. It states that 5 to 2,138 liters of water per liter of ethanol will be needed.

That’s a vast difference that could make the production a bigger problem than other issues which have arisen. Environmental concerns from pollution from fertilizer to greenhouse-gas emission from the production of the ethanol could be a deterrent for the product.

There is also the concern that the corn needed would be competing for food crops.

Technology Review reports on the new study out in the journal Environmental Science and Technology:

“Ethanol consumes more water over time as corn production extends to regions that need extensive irrigation,” says Sangwon Suh, an assistant professor of biosystems engineering at the University of Minnesota and coauthor of the study. “That means more water is needed to produce a given unit of ethanol over time.”

Considering that ethanol uses more energy to be produce than it releases may leave this fuel as a dead end.

Even as the new information comes into play The U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 mandates that ethanol production increase from 34 billion liters in 2008 to 57 billion liters by 2015.

Jerry Schnoor of the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, says that ethanol producers are already planning additional production facilities in all states to meet the 2015 goals. “We’re already in an unsustainable situation in terms of water use, already drawing down aquifers like the Ogallala,” Schnoor says of the vast underground water source stretching from South Dakota to northern Texas. “This would exacerbate that decline if we expand in these irrigation states.”

Ethanol’s answer may become finding ways to make the fuel with alternative products like grass, wood and sawdust says Jerald L. Schnoor.

The study was funded in part by the Department of Energy and the state of Minnesota.

Biggest Tornado Ever Research Project Set For This Year

How do tornadoes work? That has been a question for decades for the storm chasers and researchers that probe the funnel beasts. From May 10 until June 13 a massive research project will take place in the US tornado belt.
The project named Verification Of Rotation in Tornadoes EXperiment 2 (VORTEX2) is being funded by National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Ten universities are on board as well as scientists from NOAA and three non-profit groups.

Scientists do understand the basics of tornado formation. Basically when warm and cold air masses clash the funnel clouds can form. But what goes on inside those funnels remains a huge mystery.

The researchers are planning on sampling the super-cell thunderstorms that form over the Great Plains in the United States.

In Science

“An important finding from the original VORTEX experiment was that tornadoes happen on smaller time and space scales than scientists had thought,” said Stephan Nelson, NSF program director for physical and dynamic meteorology.

“New advances from VORTEX2 will allow for a more detailed sampling of a storm’s wind, temperature and moisture environment, and lead to a better understanding of why tornadoes form–and how they can be more accurately predicted.”

The goal of Vortex2 is to understand the whys and hows of how tornadoes form. This information would save lives as predicting them would improve.

“Data collected from V2 will help researchers understand how tornadoes form and how the large-scale environment of thunderstorms is related to tornado formation,” said National Severe Storms Laboratory research meteorologist Louis Wicker.

The fifty researchers will be in research vehicles in order to get as close as possible to the twisters. The researchers will be using radars, mobile vehicles equipped with instruments, instrumented weather balloons, and research aircraft to get the most accurate measurements possible.

The first Vortex program took place during 1994 and 1995 in the central Great Plains. The research was the first time that the entire life cycle of a tornado was documented.

NOAA reports:

“VORTEX1 made a significant difference,” says NSSL researcher Lou Wicker, “But now we have a lot more technology to make real-time predictions, which can increase warning times.”

For more than 30 years researchers at NSSL have been working on understanding the complexities of tornadoes.