Wildlife flourishing after experiencing devastating nuclear accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima

April 26, 1986 was a fateful day in Ukraine as the nuclear power plant, Chernobyl, discharged an enormous amount of radioactive materials into the atmosphere. This catastrophe, which is considered one of the worst nuclear power plant accidents in history, contaminated a large amount of land stretching over Belarus, Ukraine, Russia and other parts of Europe. The health implications of the Chernobyl accident were immense, as well the detrimental influence it had on the many ecosystems of the area. At the time of the accident, scientists questioned the environment’s ability to rebuild itself. However, according to research done by Professor Jim Smith of the University of Portsmouth, and other researchers from the University of the West of England, wildlife, in particular bird species, is thriving in areas where radiation struck the hardest.

The research is published in the Royal Society journal Biological Letters. It is likely that this research which is specific to the Chernobyl accident will apply to the Fukushima accident in Japan that occurred in 2011. It is important to note that this research will help identify the “biological effects of radiation” on the environment.

Although there has been a great deal of speculation about the harmful radiation effects that a nuclear accident, like Chernobyl, has on ecology, Professor Smith does not seem extremely startled by the findings. For instance, there has been many findings about some of the damage done at the radiation site, however, crucial details on the damage has not been presented. Smith comments on this by saying, “wildlife populations in the exclusion zone around Chernobyl have recovered and are actually doing well and even better than before because the human population has been removed.” Smith notes that one of the important reasons why wildlife is thriving in those areas is because of the absence of people and their abusive behaviors on the environment.

More specifically, this research shows that the obvious destruction in bird species is not caused solely by radiation exposure, but also by “habitat, diet or ecosystem structure.” Today, radiation levels are greatly lowered. Researchers note that damage of some species today is no different than the damage found in those same species during the time directly following the Chernobyl accident. It is hopeful after examining this research that wildlife of that area will be able to restore the biodiversity that was once so prevalent. The removal of humans in the area is greatly responsible for much of the reconstruction of the wildlife that appears today.

 

J.T. Smith, N. J. Willey, J. T. Hancock. Low dose ionizing radiation produces too few reactive oxygen species to directly affect antioxidant concentrations in cells. Biology Letters, 2012; DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0150

University of Portsmouth (2012, April 11). Wildlife thriving after nuclear disaster? Radiation from Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents not as harmful to wildlife as feared. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/04/120411084107.htm

Dinosaurs trying to escape wildfires

There is not much dinosaurs can do when facing wildfires. Some can escape by running to find shelter, while others can fly high above them. However, there were some species of dinosaurs that were not so lucky when it came to protecting themselves from these deadly disasters. Researchers from the Royal Holloway, University of London and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago have discovered new findings that reveal the frequency and destructive nature of fires that occurred during the Cretaceous period. This period occurred between 145 to 65 millions years ago, following the Jurassic period.

In the journal Cretaceous Research, researchers have explained that they discovered charcoal deposits in many fossils which reveal the prevalence of fire during this time. After forming a “global database” of charcoal deposits, scientists, including leader Professor Andrew C. Scott from the Department of Earth Sciences at Royal Holloway, found that charcoal was the residue in the fossils that was left when the plants burned.

Unlike today, the Cretaceous period was a “greenhouse world where global temperatures were higher.” Additionally, lightning strikes were likely to prompt many of these wildfires. Another characteristic of this time period which adds to the occurrence of these fires was that it had a higher atmospheric oxygen level. This is the reason plants, for instance, which hold a great amount moisture, were able to burn so easily. This is not the case today, thus the atmospheric oxygen level is not as high as it was during that time.

Obviously, these fires greatly damaged the environment and did not provide a peaceful living space for the dinosaurs. Many problems occurred because of these fires. Professor Scott describes some of these problems when he says, “Until now, few have taken into account the impact that fires would have had on the environment, not only destroying the vegetation but also exacerbating run-off and erosion and promoting subsequent flooding following storms.” Also found in this research was the prevalence of charcoal in the dinosaur fossils. This research about the frequency of wildfires will help scientists better understand the living conditions the dinosaurs endured. Scientists may be able to relate these wildfires to the world in which we live in today.

Sarah A.E. Brown, Andrew C. Scott, Ian J. Glasspool, Margaret E. Collinson. Cretaceous wildfires and their impact on the Earth system. Cretaceous Research, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.cretres.2012.02.008

Royal Holloway, University of London (2012, March 29). When dinosaurs roamed a fiery landscape. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 2, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/03/120329124714.htm

 

Underwater in a few centuries

Do you like to visit the beach? The white sands where you once soaked up the sun and threw a frisbee to your friend may not be there in a few thousand years. According to researchers at Rutgers University, the sea level will rise significantly if global warming continues on the current pace. Researchers believe that if humans do not do more to decrease global warming, like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests, there could be a 40 to 70 ft jump in the sea level.

Kenneth G. Miller, the lead researcher on the project of the School of Arts and Sciences at Rutgers, used studying rock and soil cores in Virginia, Eniwetok Atoll, and New Zealand to conclude the study. Researchers also referenced the Pliocene epoch, the period in the geologic timescale that took place 2.7 million to 3.2 million years ago, which is the last time the CO2 atmospheric level matched what it is today. However, one difference between the two periods is that the atmospheric temperatures were 2 degrees Celsius higher during the Pliocene period.

Researchers predict that the water volume increase is similar to the melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which are the first and second largest masses of ice in the world. This drastic increase could possibly flood the world’s coast. People do not have to worry about this water inundation as it will take a few centuries to happen. The 21st century is predicted to have a 2-3 feet increase in sea level because of “warming of the oceans, partial melting of mountain glaciers, and partial melting of Greenland and Antarctica.”

This research shows that a more drastic temperature change will significantly affect the rise in sea level. It is up to humans on whether the coasts will flood and if other parts of the world will become swampland. Serious action needs to be taken in order to ensure that the actual global warming increase in temperature does not exceed what is already projected to happen. At first this situation may seem disastrous but it may also be beneficial, to some extent. A slight increase in the water supply may be good for the agricultural sector of the world. However, will such an enormous amount of freshwater that will be mixing with the ocean’s saltwater be disadvantageous to all ecosystems and animal life already residing in the ocean? There are many factors to consider if this happens.

http://www.eurekalert.org/bysubject/earthscience.php “Global sea level likely to rise as much as 70 feet for future generations.” Ken Branson.

Chance Does Not Explain Persistent Summer Temperatures To Come

Annoyed by your frizzy hair that seems to last the whole summer? Irritated by the fact that your cherry popsicle melts almost instantly as it touches the warm summer air? A recent study performed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory shows that high summertime temperatures will continue to occur in the United States if we, as a country, do not cut back on our greenhouse emissions.

Lead researcher, Phil Duffy, describes that there is a possibility that the frequent high temperatures area natural occurrence. However, he believes that there is a greater probability that the high temperatures are a result of the increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Duffy and colleague, Claudia Tebaldi, who is involved in the research group called Climate Central, claim that by the middle of the 21st century, more than 50 percent of summers will have these high temperatures occurring more frequently.

The first step that the researchers took in this study was comparing the unusually high summertime temperatures from 1950-1975 and comparing them to those in the summers from 1975-2000. The high temperatures that occurred in the first time period occurred more frequently in the second time period. After a statistical analysis, Duffy and Tebaldi found that this occurrence was not due to random climate pattern.

Next, the researchers looked at the present time period while using climate models for 1995-2024. They found that extreme summer temperatures were more likely later in the time period. Finally, the researchers examined the climate model for 2035-2064. They discovered that high summer temperatures are expected to occur more frequently during this time period in the middle of the century.

 The results of this study only apply if the U.S. continues on track with the same greenhouse gas emissions. These harmful emissions are the most influential reason for “human-caused climate change.” Each summer is expected to have a significant increase in high temperatures. To prevent this from having such a great impact on our weather, the U.S. will need to be more conscious of the amount of greenhouse gases that are entering our atmosphere.

 

P.B. Duffy, C. Tebaldi. Increasing prevalence of extreme summer temperatures in the U.S.. Climatic Change, 2012; 111 (2): 487 DOI: 10.1007/s10584-012-0396-6

DOE/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (2012, February 15). Extreme summer temperatures occur more frequently in U.S. now, analysis shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 28, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/02/120215143116.htm

An ‘Invisibility Cloak’ Outside of the Harry Potter World?

Harry Potter and earthquakes. Do you see any links between the two? Scientists believe they have discovered the reason why Harry treasured his cloak so much as they attempt to create an ‘invisibility cloak’ for buildings, not for people. Mathematicians at the University of Manchester have a theory that we will soon be able to ‘cloak’ buildings in order to protect them from natural disasters, such as earthquakes. These researchers are trying to prove that ‘invisibility cloaks’ are not only an element of fantasy, but may become an important part in the protection of structures when a natural disaster strikes.

Lead scientist, Dr. William Parnell, describes that the ‘cloaking’ of the buildings will not use a luxurious fabric that Harry uses while traveling through Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but a special rubber. This pressurized rubber material will divert the vibrations, for example, of an earthquake and shield the structures using it. Hopefully, the rubber, or the cloak, will disguise buildings and allow the vibrations to pass around these structures. Such structures that may be inclined to use this rubber cushion are government buildings since they hold valuable information or nuclear energy plants which could cause great harm if damaged.

Although the rubber shielding will most obviously be used to protect from vibrations, it will also be helpful towards sound, light, and elastic waves. This research on light waves is less advanced than vibration waves most likely because it is more difficult to find a ‘cloak’ for these waves. Researchers will continue to make advancements in this area.

Despite the fact that the rubber cushion is not yet verified, there is the potential for it to be highly beneficial when dangerous earthquakes rumble through cities. It is possible that this cushion system can be used for larger scale structures. With continued research, this ‘invisibility cloak’ may be more like that of Harry Potter than we thought possible.

Manchester University (2012, February 14). ‘Invisibility’ cloak could protect buildings from earthquakes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 16, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/02/120214100817.htm

W. J. Parnell. Nonlinear pre-stress for cloaking from antiplane elastic waves. Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 2011; 468 (2138): 563 DOI: 10.1098/rspa.2011.0477

Future Climate Change Too Expensive

In less than a hundred years, China and the U.S. should expect to spend over $100 billion to repair damages done by tropical cyclones. Researchers from Yale and MIT predict that by 2100, these two world superpowers will have a pricey bill when dangerous cyclones hit. Researchers came to this conclusion by examining the expected population and economic growth for this time. The increased population is predicted to spend more of their money on harmful activities and products that will quickly affect the environment.

Predicted climate change will also add to the bill. Researchers explain that warmer weather will increase the frequency of these destructive cyclones that will hit the North Pacific and North Atlantic Ocean basins. Climate change is expected to add a cool $53 billion in destruction.

Obviously, the larger and stronger the cyclone is, the more damage that strike the land. Warmer weather will result in stronger cyclones according to researchers. Most tropical cyclones that have hit in the past have affected North America and Asia. Europe, South America and Africa will have little to worry about. Additionally, the Caribbean will need to prepare to spend money as they are located in the direct path of these developing storms.

It is interesting to see how the researchers have used historical data to predict the location and strength of these tropical cyclones. Researchers link economics and climate to estimate the destruction that countries will need to repair. In the full paper, “The Impact of Climate Change on Global Tropical Cyclone Damage,” which can be found on www.nature.com, MIT professor Kerry Emanuel explains his tropical storm model that helps researchers estimate the characteristics of the dangerous storms. The information found by these researchers will prove to be very helpful in the global economy in the near future.

DeFusco, David. “Tropical Cyclones to Cause Greater Damage.” Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. 1 Feb 2012. Web. 2 Feb 2012. http://environment.yale.edu/news/article/tropical-cyclones-to-cause-greater-damage/