Unexplored Links: Climate Change and Environmental Contaminants

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Greenland ice melt figure

Rapid surface ice melt in Greenland (July 2012). Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, CC BY 2.0

Climate change is happening here and now, and the rate of change is also speeding up, as demonstrated by a recent study. The most dramatic effects are clearly visible all around us—shifting precipitation patterns, sea level rise, ocean acidification, shrinking Arctic sea ice, melting of the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets, and amplified occurrence of wildfires, floods, heat waves, and droughts. Climate change is also a threat multiplier—the environmental fallout it causes can exacerbate political instability in the world’s most dangerous regions and increase the chances of armed conflict. In addition to these conspicuously damaging effects, there are some others that are causing alarm, although not discussed as often and not as clearly discernible at this time: climate change may alter the release, dispersal, and toxic effect of chemicals in the environment, potentially resulting in dangerous levels of human exposure and deleterious consequences for ecosystems. Continue reading

Climate Scientists Weigh-in on Scientific Disagreement and Public Trust

A guest post by Kirk Englehardt, Director of Research Communication, Georgia Institute of Technology

A new report by the Pew Research Center explores many ways scientists engage with the public – and why.

The study is based on a survey of more than 3,700 members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It reveals that scientists who study areas that are regularly debated in the media are more likely to engage in public outreach than those working in less controversial areas. They’re also more likely to speak with reporters and blog about their research. Continue reading

Climate Change: “Uncertainty” and the Hottest Year on Record

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Over the last month, much has been said about 2014 being the hottest year on record. The first announcement came from the Japan Meteorological Agency during the first week of January. Later, a joint announcement by NASA and NOAA reinforced the finding: 2014 was the hottest year in more than 120 years of record keeping. The joint announcement underscored the significance of two major scientific branches of the US government reaching the same conclusion through separate data analyses. Continue reading

College Students Demonstrate Gender Bias in Rating Their Professors

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Back in 1999, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) acknowledged that female professors suffered from pervasive, albeit unintentional, discrimination. Charles M. Vest, MIT President at the time, said in the Faculty Newsletter: “I have always believed that contemporary gender discrimination within universities is part reality and part perception. True, but I now understand that reality is by far the greater part of the balance.” The statement introduced an accompanying study unveiling the MIT pattern of discrimination — or, under a more current perspective, gender bias. Continue reading

Jellification: A Sequel to the Disappearance of Water Fleas from Canadian Lakes

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

The plenitude of environmental changes currently underway is leading scientists to devise new catchwords for communicating novel, unexpected findings. Think of plastiglomerates, a new type of stone made up of melted plastic and other materials that will likely become part of the rock record. Now, we have “jellification” — very recently conceived to describe the process causing goo balls to wash up on the shores of Canadian lakes. Continue reading

The Environmental and Health Impacts of Fracking: Time to Close the Knowledge Gap?

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Diagram of a fracking operation, courtesy of Plazak, CC-PD-Mark.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – the process of extracting natural gas by injecting wells with mixtures of water, sand, and even toxic chemicals at an extremely high pressure – may contaminate drinking water and affect human health, among other unwanted consequences. Continue reading

Neonicotinoid Pesticides: New Findings Highlight Their Role in the Disappearance of Bees

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

European_honey_bee_extracts_nectar

European honeybee (Apis mellifera). Photo by John Severns, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Bees have been declining for years worldwide—this is a well-accepted fact. However, the “why” of this decline is still a matter of debate. Although it is likely that a combination of different factors is contributing to the global bee die-offs, increasing attention is now devoted to the toxic effects of a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids, or neonics for short. They are systemic pesticides—their solubility in water allows them to reach leaves, flowers, roots and stems, even pollen and nectar. One could therefore infer that these pesticides will likely kill not only the insects that farmers want to eliminate, but also pollinators. Continue reading