Monthly Archives: September 2017

A Twist to the Great Story of Plastic-Eating Caterpillars

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

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Wax worm (Galleria mellonella). Credit: USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab, public domain.

“Like diamonds, plastics are forever,” began a recent New York Times editorial. Or are they? No one knows exactly how long it takes for conventional plastics to completely degrade—it could be hundreds or thousands of years. In other words, a very long time. Even when broken down, plastics persist as tiny bits called microplastics.

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Beach plastic, Otter Rock, Oregon, USA. Credit: Jason Karn, CC BY-ND 2.0.

The first global analysis of the production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made was published in July 2017. The study shows that by 2015, humans generated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics. Of these, 6.3 billion tons had already become waste. Only 9% of the waste was recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. These staggering numbers explain why it is necessary to find strategies to degrade accumulated plastics.

A 2017 study published in Current Biology raised considerable interest in those seeking to limit the impact of plastic pollution. Science journalists jumped on the wagon, and rightly so—the study results promised a possible solution to the accumulation of plastic bags. Worldwide, one trillion plastic bags are used each year, 380 billion of which are used in the United States alone. Most plastic bags are not recycled. Journalists were also captivated by the story leading to the study, which was widely reported in the news.

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Increased Rainfall Resulting from Climate Change Could Exacerbate Toxic Algal Blooms

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

One of the main previsions of climate science is an increase in precipitation and extreme rainfall events, which may easily cause flooding and challenge water management.  The phenomenon finds its basis in the magnified evaporation caused by warming, resulting in the swelling of water vapor in the atmosphere. In this situation, when it rains, it rains a lot, as there is more vapor available to come down as rainwater. Rainwater may fall not only in large amounts but also in short, localized bursts, too quickly for the ground to absorb it. Sadly, these climate science forecasts are coming true. Although the relationship between global warming and increased precipitation is complex, there are no doubts about the marked increase in intense rainfall events, resulting in severe flooding throughout the United States and globally.

South Carolina National Guard aids Southeast Texas after Hurricane Harvey

Flooding in Port Arthur, Texas, USA, after Hurricane Harvey (photo taken 31 Aug 2017). Credit: SC National Guard, public domain.

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