Category Archives: Environmental Policy & Regulation

An Unexpected Source of Mercury: Greenland’s Glaciers

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Greenland. Credit: Rene Schwietzke (CC BY 2.0).

Greenland, the largest island in the world not considered its own continent, lies above the Arctic Circle with the exception of its Southern tip. Ice—the Greenland Ice Sheet—is everywhere but is rapidly becoming a major contributor to sea level rise as it melts because of climate change. Now, a new study shows that the resulting freshwater (or meltwater) runs off to the ocean taking along an unexpected and toxic companion—mercury, a chemical that when transformed into methylmercury bioaccumulates and biomagnifies in fish, shellfish, and animals that eat fish, causing nervous system damage and other deleterious effects in humans and wildlife.

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Understanding Underwater Sounds: Evaluating Risks of Human Activities

Commercial shipping density (red lines).
Credit: B.S. Halpern (T. Hengl; D. Groll) / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

A guest post by Andrew McQueen, US Army Corps of Engineers

Researchers around the world are focusing more on the role of anthropogenic (human-made) sounds in marine ecosystems. In the last half century, as we have industrialized and expanded our use of the “blue” ocean economy (maritime transport, fisheries, and renewable energy), some regions have observed incremental increases of anthropogenic underwater sounds. However, the ecological consequences, or risks, of these changing underwater soundscapes remain largely unknown.

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Lost Wilderness: Restoring both Habitat and Animal Species

Photo credit: Hannes Flo, CC BY 2.0.

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

A month after the death of Henry David Thoreau, The Atlantic published his 1862 essay “Walking,” which “extolled the virtues of immersing oneself in nature and lamented the inevitable encroachment of private ownership upon the wilderness.” It included Thoreau’s famous line “In wildness is the preservation of the world”—eight powerful words that played a major role in saving places such as Yosemite and Cape Cod from human-caused environmental destruction, inspiring the creation of the US National Parks system. Upon signing the US Wilderness Act in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson stated: “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.” Continue reading

Biodiversity Under Attack in Rivers: Human Activities Cause Changes All Around the Globe

Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

On 18 February, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report highlighting the three major emergencies that are currently challenging the entire planet— climate, biodiversity, and pollution. “Making peace with nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution emergencies” is based on evidence from global environmental assessments. “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is senseless and suicidal. The consequences of our recklessness are already apparent in human suffering, towering economic losses, and the accelerating erosion of life on Earth,” said António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations in the report foreword.

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COVID-19 and the “Anthropause”: Studying the Impact on Human-Wildlife Interactions

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Urban coyote (Canis latrans). Credit: Connar L’Ecuyer for US National Park Service (public domain).

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Since COVID-19 started spreading worldwide during the first months of this year, we’ve heard intriguing stories and watched fascinating videos of wildlife emerging in city streets emptied by lockdown measures, even in metropolitan areas. The “great pause” has brought about unexpected effects. “Peacocks stroll the streets of Ronda, Spain; a gang of goats wander around a seaside town in north Wales; a puma climbs down from the Andes Mountains into Santiago, Chile; and coyotes trot around San Francisco.” Continue reading

Can Polymers Represent an Aquatic Risk—What’s Known and Unknown?

The following post is one of a series previewing the research that will be presented at the SETAC Europe Annual Meeting, held virtually as SciCon (3–7 May 2020, formerly to be held in Dublin, Ireland).

A guest post by Hans Sanderson, Anna Magdalene, Brun Hansen, Scott Belanger, Kristin Connors, and Monica Lam

Polymers are most known for their use in plastics (e.g., polypropylene), and while it is true that all plastics are polymers, it is not true that all polymers are plastics. Polymers have a much wider range of origins and uses and contain a wide variety of materials with differing structural attributes, functionalization, and physical and chemical properties.

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Achievement of UN Sustainable Development Goals at the Local Level May Shift Across Time and Geographical Areas

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

In 2015, the 193 Member States of the United Nations agreed upon a blueprint to end poverty, fight inequality, and protect the environment. Governments promised to meet 17 global sustainable development goals by 2030, thus establishing the Sustainable Development Agenda and a to-do list for people and planet. With only 10 years left until the deadline, assessing the progress towards the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is of the utmost importance to guide policy development and implementation.

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Global Warming and Economic Inequality Go Hand-in-Hand

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

Climate change is reshaping our planet—not only in its physically measurable aspects, but also in terms of humanitarian challenges. Melting glaciers, rising seas, flooding, heat waves and the like are accompanied by human displacement and migration, changes in the occurrence of infectious diseases and—as highlighted by a recent study—the intensification of global economic inequality over the past half-century.

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The Dust Bowl on the Great Plains coincided with the Great Depression. South Dakota, 1936. Credit: Wikipedia

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Environment Exposure to Microplastics and Affiliated Toxic Chemicals

A guest post by Mai Lei

The following post is one of a series previewing the research that will be presented at the SETAC North America 29th Annual Meeting in Sacramento, California (4–8 November 2018).

Can you imagine our beautiful planet becoming a “plastic planet”? In the BBC documentary film Blue Planet II, members of the producing team noted that plastic waste is ubiquitously floating in the sea, including fishing lines, plastic packages, and plastic bottles. Marine organisms can be trapped by plastic waste that is everywhere in the oceans, even in the deepest and most remote parts. So it is essential to carry out intensive studies of plastic waste. Large plastics can either be physically or chemically broken into fragments after having been in the water a long time, traveling long distances. Such fragments, coupled with ones that were released into seas as fine plastic particles (smaller than 5 mm), are collectively called microplastics.

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Surface water trawling for floating microplastic collection on the Pearl River estuary in China.  Inset pictures are pieces of microplastic (fragments, pellets, and lines) from the trawl.  Credit: Lei Mai.

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Tax Havens Drive Environmental Degradation

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Republished courtesy: Flickr user thetaxhaven

By Roberta Attanasio, IEAM Blog Editor

The expansive and opaque offshore system used for tax-dodging all around the world — and detailed in the leaked classified files known as the “Panama Papers” and “Paradise Papers” released in the past few years — is responsible for significant losses of tax revenues, currently estimated at around US$500 billion annually. This offshore system, which includes a variety of so-called tax havens and is used by wealthy individuals, companies, and financial institutions, causes serious concerns related to the global economy and has a tremendously negative effect on the global fight to end poverty.

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