“How would you like to see the beginning of everything?”: New telescope, JWST, to be launched in 2018

Picture of the JWST's large mirror plate
The James Webb Space Telescope being worked on by a team member at NASA.

With help from the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), researchers at NASA have been working for the past few years on a new telescope designed to surpass The Hubble Space Telescope. In January, Matt Greenhouse from the JWST Project office at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center presented about The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Mission and its progress. Set to launch later in 2018, JWST, named after the second administrator of NASA, James Webb, is designed to look back in time to the very first galaxies. The Hubble Space Telescope can only look back one billion years (although it has been known to look back a little further than one billion years) and the universe is 13.7 billion years old.  Light from the most ancient galaxies is emitted in the ultraviolet spectrum which eventually stretches to infrared as it travels through expanding space.  Unlike the Hubble, JWST is engineered to see in this infrared spectrum.

The JWST will have many other uses once it is launched. It will be able to see stars form so we can finally understand how stars are born. We will be able to watch how planetary systems are formed and how they evolve. A skill that will be very import for humans in the future is our ability to understand planets that orbit a star outside our solar system (exoplanets). JWST utilizes spectroscopy, a branch of research that looks at the spectra an objects reflects when in contact with or gives off electromagnetic radtion, to allow us to monitor atmospheres and possible life on these exoplanets that might allow us to find a new home far in the future. JWST will even be capable of looking at our own solar system. There are so many possibilities from looking at our sun and seeing the first solid bodies that were formed 4.567 billion years ago. JWST will even let us map out our future to when the sun becomes a red giant and destroys earth (currently estimated at 8 million years from now).

As amazing as this sounds, it’s been a massive technical project. JWST had to be designed to operate in very low temperatures (cryogenic) and it will be the largest cryogenic telescope ever constructed. The team had two main problems: the mirror from the telescope is bigger than the Ariane Rocket Fairing (a rocket fairing is the nose cone that protects the item that is going into space through launch), and it was hard to create a high stability cryogenic operating temperature (-233 degrees Celsius, -388 degree Fahrenheit). The telescope is made up of three important elements: an optical telescope, an integrated science instrument module, and a spacecraft. The mirror is a major accomplishment in itself because it is made up of multiple mirrors that will be able to work together as one big mirror. The mirrors were crafted from Beryllium because it conducts heat well, does not expand and contract with a large changes in temperature, and is lightweight and rigid.

Workers posing in one of the JWST mirrors.
JWST crew posing in one of the large mirrors that make up the giant optical telescope.

Overall, 3,200 bonded composite pieces were put together to build the telescope. The JWST will be transported by ship through the Panama Canal to French Guiana for its launch during 2018. When launched, it will be placed in orbit 1.5 million km from earth to help with the passive cryogenic cooling. Ultimately the telescope will be able to see the whole sky which will lead to very interesting discoveries in the next few years.

 

OPINION: I can’t believe the Hubble Space Telescope isn’t going to be the new cutting edge technology anymore. The Hubble Space Telescope was a part of my childhood so a part of me is sad to see it go.  However, this new telescope is so exciting, I think I could forgo my sadness. I’m really excited to see what comes out of this new telescope and I’ll be sure to live stream its launch when it goes up later this year.

 

Greenhouse, M. 2018. The James Webb Space Telescope Mission. NASA Technical Reports Server: Oral/Visual Presentation, GSFC-E-DAA-TN51070.

 

https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20180000376.pdf

Element of Suprise: Giant Reserve of Mercury Found in Permafrost of Northern Hemisphere

permafrost
Coastal erosion reveals the extent of ice-rich permafrost underlying active layer on the Arctic Coastal Plain in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area of the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska. Credit: Brandt Meixell, USGS

While it was previously thought that just large concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane were trapped within the permafrost of the Northern Hemisphere, researchers with the American Geophysical Union have recently discovered that this permafrost also contains the largest reservoir of mercury on the planet. Published on February 5th, 2018 in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the study details their discovery that permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere contains an enormous amount of mercury; a finding that has extremely negative implications for the health of not only humans but ecosystems all over the world.

Permafrost, the permanently frozen soil that occurs in locations with high latitudes, makes up 24% of the land in the Northern Hemisphere and supports various ecosystems. As a result of climate change, permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere is at risk of melting. Model projections that assume anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate estimate a 30-99% reduction of the Northern Hemisphere’s permafrost by 2100.

If this occurs, not only will the structural integrity and ecosystems of permafrost regions be at risk, but massive amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, and mercury will be released, harming ecosystems all over the world. Mercury specifically can accumulate in the food chains of both aquatic and terrestrial networks, harming the reproductive and neurological systems of animals.

This study, which took place between 2004 and 2012, had  13  sampling sites across Alaska that represented a variety of characteristics and ages typical of permafrost soils. After analysis in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, researchers found that their measurements were consistent with published data on mercury in both samples of permafrost and non-permafrost soils from thousands of other sites worldwide. With these observations they calculated the total amount of mercury stored in permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere and created a map of mercury concentrations in the region.

Based on these observations and calculations, the researchers deduced that the Northern Hemisphere permafrost region contains nearly twice as much mercury as all other soils, the ocean, and the atmosphere combined. They concluded that there is a need to reevaluate the role of the Arctic region in the global mercury cycle.

Paul F. Schuster, Kevin M. Schaefer, George R. Aiken, Ronald C. Antweiler, John F. Dewild, Joshua D. Gryziec, Alessio Gusmeroli, Gustaf Hugelius, Elchin Jafarov, David P. Krabbenhoft, Lin Liu, Nicole Herman-Mercer, Cuicui Mu, David A. Roth, Tim Schaefer, Robert G. Striegl, Kimberly P. Wickland, Tingjun Zhang. Permafrost Stores a Globally Significant Amount of MercuryGeophysical Research Letters, 2018; DOI: 10.1002/2017GL075571

Alpha waves, attention, anxiety, oh my!

Neurons firing in the brain.
Neurons firing in the brain (artificial color added). Credit: Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, M.I.T.

In a recent study, published in January 2018, scientists pinpointed a unique characteristic of people who experience trait anxiety–differences in alpha brain wave activity. Usually anxiety is correlated with an absence of alpha waves; in anxious brains, beta waves overpower alpha waves, and over time, this accumulates into feelings of constant stress. Researchers in the Departments of Psychology and Psychological Science at Ball State University found that too many alpha waves can create an equally disruptive imbalance.

The brain is composed of billions of neurons, which communicate with each other through electrical signaling. When multiple neurons fire simultaneously, they produce electrical oscillations, or “waves.” The frequency of these waves depends on the current level of consciousness: brain waves tend to be lower frequency during deep sleep, but high frequency during problem-solving, decision-making, and other tasks requiring complex thinking and concentration.

Alpha waves, which were evaluated in this study, are known to occur when the mind is in a state of relaxation. At any given moment, the brain might elicit more than one type of brain wave, but alpha waves are most widespread during meditation, while daydreaming, and even during prolonged aerobic activity, like a “runner’s high.” However, as soon as we are alerted with a task, faster beta waves take over.

This may not be the case with highly anxious individuals. Researchers used an EEG to measure the alpha brain waves of a group of individuals in a high-trait anxiety condition, analogous with having an anxiety disorder, and a group of individuals in a low-trait anxiety condition, meaning they showed very few anxiety symptoms. Researchers first measured the alpha waves during a resting, relaxed state, and then while the participants completed a response-inhibition test called the Eriksen-Flanker Task.

Researchers found that the highly anxious individuals demonstrated more alpha wave activity in the resting state, compared to the less anxious individuals. But during the Eriksen-Flanker Task, the two groups demonstrated similar levels of alpha wave activity. In other words, at baseline, the highly anxious individuals were essentially more relaxed than typical, so their brains had to make a further jump to get to an alert and focused state.

While this may seem counter-intuitive, the implications for this experiment are that the prevailing alpha waves in the brain of a highly anxious individual suppress processing of external stimuli and information. The individual might then have trouble focusing on specific tasks and thoughts. In conjunction with previous studies, anxiety has been linked to a lack of alpha waves as well as extra alpha waves in a resting state, suggesting that abnormal alpha brain wave activity alters attention and processing in various ways. More research is needed to more clearly understand this phenomenon, but researchers hope this method of measuring alpha waves will become a tool to measure degrees of anxiety in the future.

brain waves
Types of brain waves, as they appear on an EEG. Credit: Slaven Cvijetic.

Sources:

Ward, R.T., Smith, S.L., Kraus, B.T., Allen, A.V., Moses, M.A., Simon-Dack, S.L. 2018. Alpha band frequency differences between lot-trait and high-trait anxious individuals. NeuroReport 29:79-83.

Bergland, C. 2015. Alpha brain waves boost creativity and reduce depression. Psychology Today. Retrieved Feb 5, 2018 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201504/alpha-brain-waves-boost-creativity-and-reduce-depression

 

Coffee, Cocoa, and Cost Efficiency

cocoa

A group of researchers from the Netherlands have conducted a study comparing the outcomes of coffee and cocoa farming in a shaded agroforestry setting versus a conventional full sun plantation setting. Agroforestry is the practice of integrating trees and shrubs with crops to create environmental and economic benefits, without the use of agrochemicals and high densities of monocultures. The 2017 study attempted to compare the two methods of farming by calculating price per kilogram, yield, net return and revenue, and biodiversity performance.

After analyzing 23 studies, the researchers found some promising information. Profit and cost efficiency was greater for small, shaded farms. The average net return for shaded systems was 23% higher than conventional systems, resulting in a higher profit per hectare. In addition, the price per kilogram was 18% higher from shaded farms- potentially due to higher quality and environmental certifications. However, the conventional non-shaded farms had a greater yield. The lower yield produced by shaded farms, however, is said to be compensated for by the increased biodiversity and protection provided by the trees. The addition of trees in the growing of coffee and cocoa can prevent crop disease and enhance the soil fertility, acting as a natural fertilizer and soil stabilizer.

The study concluded that more research would need to be conducted to further demonstrate the relationship between biodiversity and shaded systems, as well as the financial relationship with shaded systems. Information from this study may serve to induce similar studies so we can fully understand how agroforestry may benefit an agricultural system, the environment, biodiversity, and income of the 30 million coffee and cocoa smallholders predominantly from developing countries.

 

Source: Rosalien E. J., Pita A. V., Maria J. S., René G.A. B. 2017. Shaded Coffee and Cocoa – Double Dividend for Biodiversity and Small-scale Farmers. Ecological Economics 140: 136-145

Photo Source: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 

Radiation in Clinical Care

Biomedical Imaging

 

Medical Intensive care unit (MICU) patients are exposed to radiation [Cumulative Effective dose (CED)] higher than annual US Federal occupational standard limits  (CED≥50 mSv) within a short period of time due to radiological studies. A study conducted between January and December 2013 found this to be true among 3% of the total 4155 patients > age 18 involved in the study. In 1%, the CED was higher than 100 mSv, which is the Federal cumulative limit for 5 years.

The millisievert (mSv) is a measure of the organic effect of ionizing radiation and is referred to as the effective dose (ED). Statistical tests conducted on the data obtained in the study showed that 36% of the patients were exposed to radiation higher than the natural background radiation (~3 mSv). Values just 3-5 times higher have been suspected to cause carcinogenesis, although the debate is still ongoing.

Ionizing radiation can lead to cancers by damaging our DNA or RNA and causing genetic abnormalities.This is especially true for kids and young adults who have a high rate of cellular division and a longer lifespan to express the effects of radiation.

Radiation is used in numerous reliable diagnostic procedures in the MICU. Although this has been overshadowing the potential risk of cancers, of late, more medical literatures are exploring its adverse effects. The study also showed an increase in the CED for patients with a higher length of stay at the MICU. Diagnosis of sepsis, COPD, cirrhosis and Gastrointestinal bleeding were also seen to affect CED. Among the radiation based Imaging systems used in healthcare, CT and IR caused the highest amount of radiation burden.

radiation burden data distribution
Figure 1 shows the distribution of data obtained by Krishnan et al for radiation burden

Krishnan et al report that despite their adoption of the ALARA (‘as low as reasonably achievable’) principle of radiation safety, patients were exposed to substantial amounts of radiation during diagnosis. They suggest that:

“Proactive monitoring of CED with real time display in electronic medical resorts will assist physicians in deciding the risk-benefit ratio.”

The study was limited in that it was conducted among MICU patients from a single academic medical center. The estimate of ED from previously published papers and the limited medical record systems accessed to obtain the data could have caused an undervaluation of the CED. Another shortcoming was the disregard for patient characteristics like age and sex. However, the results of the study denote a need to conduct significant more research on the effects of radiology in medicine and its pros and cons for overall patient health.

This leaves us with the question, are we so highly dependent on radiological resources that we fail to consider the harm it might be doing? At this day and age of technological advances, there should be more active endeavors to explore the benefits and subsequent disadvantages of radiation in the medical industry.

Reference: Krishnan S, Moghekar A, Duggal A, Yella J, Narechania S, Ramachandran V, Mehta A, Adhi F, Vijayan AKC, Han X, Dong F, Martin C III, Guzman J, Radiation Exposure in the Medical Intensive Care Unit- Predictors and Characteristics, CHEST (2018), doi: 10. 1016/ j.chest.2018/01/019.

Link to article

Canadian Light Source Research Office

 

Pepper Patch for Pain Relief

Pepper Patch for Pain Relief

A double blind study out of the Netherlands, funded by Astellas Pharma, have found that skin patches containing capsaicin, the active component of chili peppers, has been show to significantly reduce pain in patients suffering from Painful Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy (PDPN).

PDPN is characterized by nerve damage due to chronically high blood sugar and diabetes, causing numbness, and often pain in hands, feet, and legs. It is a common complication of diabetes and is most often treated broadly as chronic pain or nerve damage. This study takes a more targeted approach.

The completed study consisted of 352 PDPN patients, half of whom were giving a placebo patch, the other half given a 8% capsaicin patch for only 30 minutes. The patients with the capsaicin achieved at least a 30% reduction on average daily pain, shortened treatment response time, and increased sleep quality. These effects were sustained for up to 12 weeks.

Painful Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy is a debilitating condition that affects approximately one quarter of type 2 diabetes patients. A lack of treatment consensus has led Doctors to prescribe opiods, antidepressants, and anti-seizure medications to combat the pain. However these medications act on the entire central nervous system, not just the site of the pain, and have the potential for addiction, abuse, withdrawal, and worse. The concentrated capsaicin acts by shocking hyperactive neuron receptors near the skin providing rapid and targeted pain relief after only one 30-minute treatment.

Though over 35% of the non-placebo group reported adverse reactions (compared to 13% in the placebo group), most were mild to moderate in intensity; though 3 non-placebo patients saw severe irritation at the application site.

Doubtlessly this will not replace traditional treatment regimens anytime soon, but as research progresses on the effectiveness of capsaicin for nerve pain relief, it will be helpful to doctors and patients to have a moderately effective and comparably benign treatment for such a complex problem.

To date this is the first known study using a capsaicin patch for pain relief in this population, but if the results are any indication it will not be the last.

chili pepper

Capsaicin 8% Patch in Painful Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study Simpson, David M. et al. The Journal of Pain , Volume 18 , Issue 1 , 42 – 53

Saving Soil: Case studies from the Great Plains

soybean field

They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, and that may very well be the case of Great Plains farmers and ranchers who are experiencing significant losses of soil due to erosion. A recently published study uses numerous case studies from the Great Plains states to highlight the importance of soil health to ensure soil security. Soil security recognizes the role soil has in meeting today’s global challenges of food security, water security, and climate change. Soil health influences the goods and services we receive from the soil, so it is necessary that we understand how soil is being both compromised and sustained. By making growers and consumers aware of the externalities of degraded soil health, we can hope to better the agricultural system. 

Land used for cultivation has increased over the last several years in the area of interest, drastically changing the landscape. Clearing land for crop use by conventional means, entails the removal of grasslands and perennial crop cover such as grasses and trees. In doing so, the soil becomes loose as it is no longer held together by roots and the topsoil becomes exposed. This allows for erosion by wind or water to occur. Wind can carry the soil into the air, creating dust storms capable of blocking sunlight. Water that runs off of the land can create gullies and carry sediment to nearby streams, affecting water quality and life within the streams. A gully formed 25 m wide by 95 m long and almost 10 m deep at a ranch in Texas.

The ranch owner notes,

“We’re still fighting erosion up here on all our land, is a constant battle, and we’re consistently losing creek bank after storms due to the severity of runoff upland of us…most creeks here hadn’t moved 5 feet [≈1.5 m] in decades, but now they’re moving 50–60 ft per year [≈17 m].”

The need for sustainable agricultural practices and improved land use planning with incentives for farmers to adopt soil or water conservation practices, is necessary. Conservation agriculture practices include no tillage or reduced soil disturbance, diversifying crop rotations, maintaining high levels of crop residue between plantings (corn stalks and stems left on the field between growing seasons), incorporating cover crops into crop rotations and integrating livestock into the cropping system. Soil is essential for nutrient cycling, biodiversity, and water regulation- not to mention, providing our world with food. Traditional farming practices cannot feed the world in a way that is both good for humans and the environment.

 

 

 

Source:

Benjamin L. Turner, Jay Fuhrer, Melissa Wuellner, Hector M. Menendez, Barry H. Dunn, Roger Gates. 2018. Scientific case studies in land-use driven soil erosion in the central United States: Why soil potential and risk concepts should be included in the principles of soil health. International Soil and Water Conservation Research. DOI.

Hormones Do It Again

T-cells

Researchers at the UPCM Sorbonne University in France have linked Autoimmune Regulator (AIRE) proteins to the high predisposition of women to autoimmune diseases (AD). They found results from numerous studies correlated mutations in AIRE to the occurrence of ADs. Further research was conducted that showed a negative effect of female hormones on the functioning of AIRE.

AD is a result of abnormal immune responses caused by T cells (immune cells) that recognize body cells as foreign and hence attack them. AIRE are proteins present in cells of the inner lining of the thymus. They recognize such T cells and eliminate them through apoptosis (cell death) in a natural process called central immune tolerance. To back this hypothesis, a research conducted on an autoimmune thyroid mouse model showed an increase in the presence of autoantibodies in the blood upon blocking AIRE expression in the thymus.

T-cells

The relationship between autoantibodies and female sex hormones is most prominent through the high incidence of ADs in females after puberty, a time of significant hormonal differences between males and females.

A study showed that the female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone caused a decrease in the expression of AIRE whereas the hormone DHT (formed from testosterone) showed an increase in expression. Estrogen has been found to contribute to this by causing hypermethylation of the AIRE gene. In this process, methyl groups are added to DNA molecules, hence changing their function without causing significant change in the structure. This is but one method by which female sex hormones lead to ADs. However, there is much more to be learned by exploring the multitude of pathways involved in the relationship between sex hormones, AIRE and ADs.

As an example, in Thymus Epithelial Cells, AIRE has been shown to activate parts of the genome that are responsible for insulin tolerance by binding to them. Low AIRE expression has been associated with insulin-dependent immunity and type I diabetes. Besides AIRE, there are other proteins being investigated to check for possible correlations between sex hormones and AD.

PRDM1 is a protein in our body that helps prevent ADs through the deletion of defective T cells in the thymus. Researches conducted on mice have shown gender dependence on the expression of PRDM1. However, there are no direct evidences of a connection between PRDM1 and autoimmune diseases in humans. There is much more to be explored in regard to these new found results.

The reasons behind the gender based difference in AD must surely not be limited to a few proteins or sex hormones. And just how much do our hormones come into play in the determination of our susceptibility to ADs? What factors contribute to strengthen or alleviate this vulnerability? Many such questions can be raised and the answer to them all would be to dig deeper into the mysteries hidden inside of us.

Reference:

Berrih-Aknin, S., Le Panse, R., and Dragin, N.2017. AIRE: a missing link to explain female susceptibility to autoimmune diseases. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1412: 21-32.

Link to article

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

Cooling powers of reflection

Image of city and water.

Researchers found a way to reduce the effects of greenhouse gas through regional land radiative management (LRMreg). As an alternative approach in climate engineering and climate adaption, this method alters the radiative properties of agricultural land and high population areas to change the average temperature, extreme temperature, and precipitation within the region. For this study, the researchers focused on climate and weather changes in North America, Europe, and Asia.

The use of LRMreg is seen as a better method than using the global solar radiation management (SRMglob) because it does not use sulfate aerosol injection (SAI). SAI is met with contention and controversy because it can lead to the depletion of the ozone layer and contribute to the increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) leading to ocean acidification. Furthermore, this process would decrease monsoon precipitation, and prompt higher temperature at the regional level. However, this approach is for scientists that want to reduce global mean temperature, instead of the extreme regional temperatures. Furthermore, there is concern that this technology would encourage higher CO2 levels rather than adapting ways to mitigate or eliminate them.

Even though the researchers portray LRMreg as the better option, there are still risks associated with this method. For instance, this method could increase the use of herbicide and other chemicals to control crop infestations. Secondly, there is a high chance of second crops freezing which can alter the plant management. Similar to SRMglob, LRMreg can increase CO2 concentration leading to ocean acidification.  Despite this, LRMreg presents as an ideal approach because it counteracts the effects of climate change at the regional and local level in densely populated and agricultural regions. Results from their study indicate that LRMreg reduces the effects of extreme hot and dry temperature that would impact human health and crop production. In agricultural production, this approach increases water use efficiency for dry land and crops, and enhances drying techniques during the intercropping period. In urban space, white roofs or reflective paving could reduce the use of air conditioning, which would provide energy savings.

Seneviratne and coauthors, argue that LRMreg is worth the risks because it provides efficiencies to land and urban management. Moreover, the results in their study indicated that the LRMreg could reduce hot extreme temperatures in densely populated and crop-producing regions by 2-3 C°. This could be helpful because cities and agriculture are crucial to the global economy.

Citation:

Seneviratene, S.I., Phipps, S.J., Pitman, A.J., Hirsch, A.L., Davin, E.L., Donat, M.D., Hirschi M., Lenton, A., Wilhelm, M., Kravitz, B. 2018. Land radiative management as a contributor to regional –scale climate adaption and mitigation. Nature Geoscience 11:88-96.

 

Reading Bones: Scientists Determine how Ocean Acidification Affects Coral Reef Health by Examining Coral Skeletons

coral reef
Credit: flickr

Climate change impacts everything around us, from weather to the land, air, and water itself. Due to the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, ocean acidification levels are rising, which in turn threatens the health and wellbeing of coral reef ecosystems. A study was recently published on how ocean acidification directly affects the health of coral reefs, which are essential for protecting coastlines, providing a habitat for aquatic life, and assisting in the chemical conversions of carbon and nitrogen fixing that are essential for life on earth.

A research team at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts published a study on January 28, 2018 that identifies the specific way various coral species is affected by ocean acidification and display the effects of future environment conditions on reefs.  They determined that ocean acidification hinders growth of coral skeleton in the thickening process, which in turn reduces the skeleton’s density and leaves it more vulnerable to breakage.

While it had been theorized that coral calcification rates decline as ocean acidification increases, these predictions hadn’t been consistent in a laboratory setting or when studying corals inhabiting reefs with low pH levels. The WHOI was able to study coral skeletons and determine how pH levels and carbonate ion concentrations effect coral reefs and create a mathematical model that predicts how skeletal density will be effected by climate change and ocean acidification in the 21st century. This research plays an important role in examining the impact we have on the world around us and how human actions will effect ecosystem’s future health.

The team took core skeletal samples of Porites, a common coral, from four locations all over the world where sea water conditions vary in pH level and carbonate ion concentrations. Using a 3-D computerized tomography scanner to image the cores, the researchers found annual growth bands on the skeletons (similar to the growth rings of trees) that imply the skeletons of coral in more acidic environments were significantly thinner.

After developing a numerical model that modeled the growth mechanism of coral skeletons and comparing it to projected changes in ocean acidity caused by climate change, the researchers concluded that declines in coral skeletal density will occur in coral reefs all over the world. The Indo-Pacific region in particular will be greatly impacted; it has been predicted that there will be up to 20% in reductions in skeletal density by 2100. This in turn will affect the overall health of coral and the ecosystems coral provides for a vast array of marine life.

Ocean acidification does not happen in isolation and other environmental effects caused by climate change will inevitably also affect the health of these important ecosystems.

Source:

Mollica, N.R., Guo, W., Cohen, A.L., Huang, K.F., Foster, G.L., Donald, H.K., and Solow, A.R. 2018. Ocean acidification affects coral growth by reducing skeletal density. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas. 1712806115 

Another Rainforest Biting the Dust?

 

river
Kwa falls in Cross River state Rainforest, Nigeria Taken by Shiraz Chakera https://www.flickr.com/photos/shirazc/130088242/in/photolist-cuJGJ

Deforestation though necessary for industrialization, has a long-standing history of being severely detrimental to the environment. Deforestation, especially to that of tropical rainforest, plays a huge part in habitat loss, loss of biodiversity, and is a lead factor in global climate change. Sadly, rainforests in Wilberforce Island in Bayelsa State, Nigeria are no different.

The department of Geography and Environmental Management at the Niger Delta University located in Wilberforce island, conducted a survey around the reasoning behind the deforestation of the local area tropical rainforest. Using 125 questionnaires given out to the local inhabitants and satellite photos taken in 2002 and 2015 respectively, they came to several conclusions. They found that, through their questionnaire, that most of the destruction of the forest came in part to logging followed closely behind by farming. This was then backed up by the satellite images that revealed an increase of land usage due to agriculture from 10.71% in 2002 to 30.57% in 2015. Within just 13 years, land use from farming increased by 185.35%, mainly impart to the population growth that came from the construction of the Niger Delta University in 2000. Furthermore, this new designated farm land had to come from somewhere, and you probably guessed it by now, it came from land previously held by the rainforest.

No other research has been done into the deforestation of the forests on Wilberforce Island, and so it’s good that this study shed some light on what’s happening. Between 2002 and 2015 forest cover dropped by 30.02%, destroying millions of species habitats along with it. That rate is unheard of and much more outside of this study needs to be done to stop it.

My final personal note is I find it quite ironic and irritating that this survey was conducted by the Niger Delta University, the same establishment that was the underlying factor for the increased deforestation rates of the island in the first place. I hope they take their study to the next step and work to prevent the further logging and destruction of the forests.

For more information on the study see the full text at www.ajol.info or www.bioline.rg.br/ja.

Source

Bariweni, P.A., and Andrew, C.E., October 2017. Land use/Land Cover Changes and Causes of Deforestation in the Wilberforce Island Beyelsa State, Nigeria. J. Appl. Sci. Environ. Manage. 21