Categories
environment

Glacier loss due to global warming

As climate scientists predicted, glaciers are vanishing due to rapidly warming temperatures.

With global warming, we can make predictions and then take measurements to test those predictions. One prediction (a pretty obvious one) is that a warmer world will have less snow and ice. In particular, areas that have year-round ice and snow will start to melt.

Alpine glaciers are large bodies of ice that can be formed high in mountains, typically in bowls called cirques. The ice slowly flows downwards, pulled by gravity, and is renewed in their upper regions. A sort of balance can occur where the loss of ice by melting or flowing at the bottom is equal to the gain of snow and ice by precipitation.

As the Earth warms, the melt line moves upwards so that the glacier melts faster and faster at the bottom, shortening the glacier and reducing its mass. Ultimately, the melted water flows into streams and rivers and ends up in the oceans, contributing to accelerating sea level rise.

While glaciers are interesting from an intellectual standpoint, they are also important to ecosystems and society. For example, the rate of glacier melt affects downstream water levels, river flowrates, and the water available for human use. So, it would be really important for us to be able to predict what will happen with glaciers in the future and plan for how water availability will change.

Of the groups that track glaciers, my favorite is the World Glacier Monitoring Service, which publishes a survey of the mass changes from selected glaciers around the world, available here and summarized below. The graph shows changes to the mass of the glaciers that are monitored, measured in millimeters of equivalent water.

Changes to water content of glaciers.
Changes to water content of glaciers. Illustration: World Glacier Monitoring Service

But this doesn’t tell the whole story because there is very little information about glacier health in the high latitudes (Northern Alaska, Canada, Northern Europe, Northern Russia, etc.). Very few temperature records exist in high elevations in these regions. Furthermore, the temperatures do not extend back very far in time. So, it is challenging for scientists to develop a long-term perspective on glacier health in these areas.

And this is why a new study attracted my attention. A paper was just published by the American Geophysical Union that shared research carried out by Dominic Winski and his colleagues.

This team of researchers extracted ice cores from the glaciers on Mt. Hunter, in Alaska. The ice cores held snow and ice from as far back as 400 years. The researchers showed that the amount of water melt currently is 60 times greater than it was prior to 1850. They also found that the summertime temperature changes on Mt. Hunter are almost 2°C per century (about 3.5°F). To put this in perspective, the temperatures are rising about twice as fast as global temperatures.

The fact that temperatures on these northern mountains is rising faster than the globe as a whole is something predicted by climate models. The reason it warms so fast in these locations is that as the warming starts, snow begins to melt, exposing dark soil, which absorbs more sunlight, leading to more warming. We call this a feedback loop. There are other feedbacks at play, including changes to vertical temperatures in the air, changes to clouds, and changes to atmosphere currents. These areas were predicted to warm particularly fast, and the measurements confirm the predictions.

The authors recognized that during the summer, the top layer of snow and ice can melt. The liquid water permeates the ice beneath it and refreezes, creating a more solid ice layer than before. Because the bands of solid ice are formed from melting snow, more bands of solid ice mean that summer temperatures were above freezing when the ice bands formed. Measuring the number and thickness of these bands through time gives information about how warm the summer temperatures are.

So basically, the authors used these annual ice-core bands to deduce temperatures as far back as 400 years ago. They found that the frequency of melting events increased by 57-fold from the 1650–1850 time period compared with 1980–2011. They also measured a 60-fold increase in total melt. These are staggering numbers. I asked the lead author, Dominic Winski to summarize his findings and he told me,

This research shows that peaks in the Alaska Range sustain additional summertime warming through links with rising ocean temperatures in the tropics. Not only have we learned that summers are much warmer on Mt. Hunter than they were hundreds of years ago, but our research also demonstrates how connected the climate system is, with changes in certain parts of the world affecting places thousands of miles away.

It will be interesting to see if others can replicate these findings in other locations. But the collaboration of the conclusions with other evidence is quite compelling. Good work, researchers.

Miles Glacier and Miles Lake Chugach National Forest near Cordova, Alaska.

Categories
Biology Covid-19 human body

SARS-CoV-2 Variants Develop in Chronic, Immunosuppressed Patients

SARS-CoV-2 variants have been a key player in the conversation, and public health response, of the COVID-19 pandemic. But where do COVID-19 variants originate? Now, new research reveals that the many SARS-CoV-2 variants are likely formed in chronic COVID-19 patients who suffer from immunosuppression. The research suggests that a weakened antibody response, particularly in the lower airways of these chronic patients, may prevent full recovery from the virus and drive the virus to mutate many times during a lengthy infection. The virus’ ability to survive and reproduce in the immunosuppressed patient’s body—without restriction—leads to the evolution of many variants.

Furthermore, the variants found among those chronically ill with COVID-19 bear many of the same mutations in their evolution as those present in variants-of-concern (VOC) for severe illness—particularly those mutations associated with evading antibodies. The new findings indicate that while rapidly-spreading variants are rare among the many strains borne from immunosuppressed patients, the likelihood increases and they do arise when global infection rates boom.

Since the start of COVID-19, the rate at which the virus evolves has been somewhat puzzling to Adi Stern, PhD, professor of biotechnology at the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research at the Wise Faculty of Life Sciences at Tel Aviv University. During the first year of the pandemic, a relatively slow but constant rate of mutations was observed. However, since the end of 2020, the world has witnessed the emergence of variants that are characterized by a large number of mutations, far exceeding the rate observed during the first year. Various scientific hypotheses about the link between chronic COVID-19 patients and the rate of the accumulation of mutations have surfaced, but nothing definitive has been proven.

“The coronavirus,” noted Stern, “is characterized by the fact that in every population, there are people who become chronically infected. In the case of these patients, the virus remains in their body for a lengthy period of time, and they are at high risk for recurrent infection. In all of the cases observed so far, these were immunocompromised patients. In biological evolutionary terms, these patients constitute an “incubator” for viruses and mutations—the virus persists in their body for a long time and succeeds in adapting to the immune system, by accumulating various mutations.”

The study searched for drivers of VOC-like emergence by consolidating sequencing results from a set of 27 chronic infections in patients at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

According to Stern, the results reveal a complex picture; although no direct connection was found between anti-COVID-19 drug treatment and the development of variants, the researchers discovered that it is likely the weakened immune system of immunocompromised patients that creates pressure for the virus to mutate.

Most substitutions in this set, the authors noted, reflected lineage-defining VOC mutations; however, a subset of mutations associated with successful global transmission was absent from chronic infections.

In fact, the researchers found that there were chronic patients who showed a pattern of apparent recovery, followed by recurring viral infection. In all of these patients, a mutated form of the virus emerged, suggesting that recovery had not been achieved; this is partially reminiscent of HIV following inadequate drug treatment.

Upon closer examination of some patients, the researchers found that when such a pattern of apparent recovery is observed (based on negative nasopharyngeal swabs), the virus continues to thrive in the lungs of the patients. The researchers, therefore, suggest that the virus accumulates mutations in the lungs, and then traverses back to the upper respiratory tract.

The authors believe that they found evidence for dynamic polymorphic viral populations in most patients, suggesting that a compromised immune system selects for antibody evasion in particular niches in a patient’s body. In addition, there is a tradeoff between antibody evasion and transmissibility and that extensive monitoring of chronic infections is necessary to further understanding of VOC emergence

Categories
Biology human body

stem cells advance & medicine

Stem cells could help medicine in three general ways: cell-based therapies, drug discovery and basic knowledge. Cell therapies would use stem cells, or cells grown from stem cells, to replace or rejuvenate damaged tissue. Scientists also want to use stem cells to understand disease and find drugs that might treat it.

Embryonic stem cells could be used to make more specialized tissues that have been lost to disease and injury. For tissues that are constantly replaced, like blood and skin, stem cells would probably be replaced directly. Researchers are also exploring ways to use stem cells to treat diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injury, heart disease and vision and hearing loss, among others.

As of April 2007, however, no therapies using cells derived from embryonic stem cells have been tested in humans. The efficacy of stem cell therapies depends on the introduced cells arriving where they are needed and either replacing or rejuvenating damaged cells. They should not contain undifferentiated embryonic stem cells, and either the cells, the patient or both should be treated so that the patient’s immune system will not attack the transplants.

As an alternative to cell therapies, some researchers are looking for traditional drugs that would prompt adult stem cells to come out of hiding and replace damaged tissuesIn one early study, rats with a strokelike injury had more control over their movement after being treated with a compound that stimulates stem cells in the brain.

Embryonic stem cells could be grown into more specialized cells for screening potential drugs. Cultures of cancer cells are already used for screening cancer drugs, and growing embryonic stem cells into heart, liver or nerve cells could be useful for testing drugs that affect those organs. Ideally, the human cells could be custom-made to represent the genetic diversity and traits typical of people who suffer from the disease being studied. Right now, potential drug molecules are tested first in mice and rats, but results of these animal tests do not always correlate with what happens in humans. Drugs that poison a human liver, for example, might do no harm to a rat’s.Many scientists think that testing pollutants and potential drugs on cells grown from human embryonic stem cells could be more accurate than current tests. This could mean that fewer animals would be killed for research and also make research faster and cheaper. However, if such experiments are to work, scientists will have to develop techniques to make sure that the cells and culture conditions remain constant; otherwise, differences between experiments could be due to factors other than the drug candidates being tested.

Categories
environment

Extreme Flooding in Yellowstone

It had been an unusually warm early June in Yellowstone National Park, with temperatures in the 70s. Then a weekend storm intensified quickly, dropping a month’s worth of precipitation on the park in little more than a day. The rivers and creeks were already running high, filled with melting snow from an above-average snowpack. By Monday, the Gardner River—whose headwaters are on the west side of the park, in the Gallatin Mountains—was a muddy, rushing torrent.

As it churned down the Gardner Canyon below Mammoth Hot Springs, the river took chunks of the adjacent roadway along with it. Choked with debris, the floodwaters joined the Yellowstone River at the foot of the canyon; the surge pushed on more than 50 miles north, inundating Yankee Jim Canyon, Paradise Valley and the town of Livingston.

Conditions were similar across the park, as creeks and waterways rose to record-breaking levels, covering roadways and sweeping away bridges. On Monday, Yellowstone’s superintendent, Cam Sholly, announced the closure of all five of Yellowstone’s inbound entrances and the evacuation of most tourists from the area.

The extreme weather took a heavy toll on the town of Gardiner, Montana, which sits at the confluence of the Gardner (more on the spelling discrepancy later) and Yellowstone rivers. Floodwaters cut off Gardiner’s almost 900 residents from both Livingston and the park’s headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs, leaving them without power and drinkable water for several days.

“The road that I took from Yellowstone Park to [Gardiner], I drove on it probably 10:30 p.m. Sunday night,” Dawson Killen, a tourist from Texas who found herself stranded in Gardiner, told ABC FOX Montana. “By the time I woke up [Monday], the road didn’t exist anymore.”

This early summer flood was the latest in a series of dynamic events that have shaped Gardiner over the past two centuries. It shows how the very conditions that create thriving, successful gateway towns—defined as communities located just outside of national parks and historic sites—make them vulnerable to destruction.

What is now the town of Gardiner sits between the Gallatin and Absaroka mountain ranges. For thousands of years, the two rivers that rush down from the Yellowstone caldera and into this valley drew bison, elk and wolves—and the Apsaalooké (Crow), northern Cheyenne, Arapaho, Shoshone-Bannock and other Indigenous hunters who followed.

The first white man to take up residence at the confluence was Johnson Gardner, an American Fur Company trapper who caught beavers along the Yellowstone River in the 1830s. The area became known as Gardner’s Hole, in part due to legendary guide Jim Bridger, who used the name when he brought the Washburn-Langford-Doane expedition to Yellowstone in 1870. The name of the campsite (but not the river) was misspelled in the expedition’s accounts, and in the official government report of geologist Ferdinand Hayden, who brought the first federally funded scientific team into Yellowstone the following year.

Hayden’s survey led to the passage of the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act in 1872, preserving more than one million acres in the Yellowstone Basin and creating the first national park in the world. Within the year, entrepreneurs had built a toll road from Bozeman, Montana, to Gardiner and up to Mammoth Hot Springs. Settlers arrived and built a restaurant and bakery, post office, schoolhouse, barber shop, saloon, general store, and hotel. But the area was still difficult to reach; only a few hundred tourists came through Gardiner to visit Yellowstone in the next ten years.

In 1882, the Northern Pacific Railroad reached the town of Livingston, and the hundreds of tourists became thousands, disembarking at Livingston and then taking stagecoaches to Gardiner and the park. It wasn’t until the completion of a Northern Pacific spur line—a short extension of the track from the main line at Livingston to the park’s northern entrance—in 1902, however, that Gardiner’s status as the park’s first gateway town was secured.

As the first issue of the Gardiner Wonderland declared in May 1902, “This town is the supply point of the surrounding country, and headquarters for most of the team work and freighting in and about the park.”

By then, officials had established the park’s headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs, one of Yellowstone’s premier attractions. But visitors also wanted to see the upper and lower falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, as well as Old Faithful and the other wonders of the geyser region.

Park personnel constructed two “loop roads” connecting these sites and several new entrances, which linked the park to communities that would become additional gateway towns: Jackson Hole (south) and Cody (east) in Wyoming and West Yellowstone (west) and Cooke City (northeast) in Montana. The western entrance quickly became the park’s most popular. After 1902, when the southern entrance was completed, Jackson Hole and Gardiner vied for the second spot.

To promote Gardiner’s role as the first gateway—and to provide tourists entering the park there with a dramatic experience—town leaders and United States Army officials (who oversaw Yellowstone at the time) built a 50-foot-tall basalt arch in 1903. President Theodore Roosevelt, who was visiting Yellowstone that spring, laid the cornerstone and gave a short speech.

“The Yellowstone Park is something absolutely unique in the world so far as I know,” Roosevelt told a cheering crowd. “Nowhere else in any civilized country is there to be found such a tract of veritable wonderland made accessible to all visitors.”

In the almost 120 years since the arch’s dedication, Gardiner has played an important role in making the park accessible, pivoting to meet escalating numbers of visitors and adapt to transportation revolutions. In 1915, officials authorized automobiles’ entry into the park. Gas stations, garages and auto repair shops quickly replaced stables, barns and liveries. The town widened its streets, and the commercial corridor expanded.

In 1948, as train ticket sales declined due to the American embrace of the automobile, the Northern Pacific Railroad decided to end passenger rail service to Gardiner. That same year, visitation to Yellowstone reached one million for the first time; an estimated 18 to 20 percent of these travelers came through Gardiner.


Gardiner is in many ways typical of Yellowstone’s gateway communities—and other such towns across the nation—in its long history of tourism and economic growth stemming from close relationships with iconic American landscapes. It is unique, however, in being the site of much of Yellowstone National Park’s “official” infrastructure. Due to Gardiner’s proximity to park headquarters at Mammoth Hot Springs, the park built a Heritage and Research Center that houses manuscript, book and object collections related to Yellowstone’s history there in 2005. Yellowstone Forever, the official nonprofit partner of the park that supports education and fundraising projects, is also based in Gardiner.

These places draw visitors, as does the town itself. Gardiner’s location at the end of the bucolic Paradise Valley, and its quaint main street perched high above the Yellowstone River, makes it, as the town’s chamber of commerce likes to say, “nature’s favorite entrance.” It’s also the only gateway community to offer year-round entrance to Yellowstone, giving business leaders an advantage in attracting shoulder season visitors.

These are all benefits for Gardiner and its residents. But gateway communities balance on the sharpest segment of a double-edged sword. They rely almost entirely on tourism for their existence, yet too much tourism can destroy them.

In 2013, for example, local, state and federal agencies poured money into infrastructure improvements in Gardiner to prepare for the National Park Service’s 2016 centennial celebrations. While residents of the town appreciated the new sidewalks, lighting and tax revenue that resulted from the program, somecame to resent the accompanying uptick in tourist traffic, according to a 2018 survey by the University of Montana. The town was flourishing, but it was also more crowded and less peaceful.

The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated these problems. In spring 2020, quarantine orders cut off the flow of tourists to Yellowstone and threw Gardiner and the park’s other gateway communities into economic disarray. Then, the surge of tourists heading back into the region in summer 2020 and 2021 put stress on hotels and restaurants experiencing massive labor shortages, as well as hospitals dealing with out-of-towners who contracted Covid while on the road. The pandemic also brought a large new population of transplants to the region, most of them white-collar workers who could log into their jobs from anywhere with a decent Wi-Fi signal.

As a result of this tourism boom, housing prices skyrocketed, and an increasing number of apartments and houses in Gardiner were turned into Airbnbs and other short-term rentals, making it difficult for people who want to work at the park and its related businesses to find a place to live. The situation has created friction between locals and visitors.

These demographic shifts, like every aspect of Gardiner’s history, are both beneficial and damaging to its prospects. Gardiner’s status as a gateway community is the reason for its success but also makes the town vulnerable to larger changes in government policy, technological innovation and global events. This weekend’s flood also points to the fact that Gardiner is vulnerable to climate change.

Last summer, a study of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem found that while average precipitation across the region has not changed significantly since 1950, temperatures have risen steadily, resulting in more rain (rather than snow) at higher elevations in late spring. Though the recent flooding was unprecedented, the conditions that created it will likely become increasingly common: accelerated snowmelt, combining with spring storms bringing too much rain for Yellowstone’s creeks and rivers to handle. Even if Montana and Wyoming residents take steps to mitigate climate change in the next few years, the report’s authors point out, temperatures will continue to rise, and more extreme weather events will take place.

The havoc that the Gardner River wreaked on the canyon road to Mammoth doesn’t bode well for the town. The road into the park will probably be closed until next year at the earliest. Without access to Yellowstone, tourists are unlikely to travel all the way down to Gardiner just to hike or go whitewater rafting. The local economy will be devastated in the short term. The park itself will also undergo changes; without the Gardiner entrance to bring visitors into the northern part of Yellowstone, rangers and other staff will face overcrowding and traffic jams throughout the rest of the park.

The challenges to recovery will be immense. Gardiner’s residents—and the National Park Service—cannot ignore the impact of recent demographic shifts or the strong likelihood of a more volatile climate in the future. What Gardiner’s long history shows, however, is that this weekend’s floods are one turbulent moment in a series of such moments. To remain “nature’s favorite entrance” to Yellowstone, this gateway town will have to adjust, yet again, to momentous changes occurring on the edges of America’s first national park.

Categories
Biology environment

World no tobacco day: Tobacco impacts environment, not just health

World No Tobacco Day is observed on May 31 every year since 1987. This year, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) theme for the Day is “Tobacco: Threat to our environment.” This drive aims to create awareness among the public on the detrimental impact of tobacco cultivation, production, distribution, and waste on the environment, besides human health. 

According to WHO, about 3.5 million hectares of land are cleared for growing tobacco each year. It causes deforestation mainly in the developing nations. Tobacco cultivation results in soil degradation, making it infertile to support the growth of other crops or vegetation. Tobacco contributes 84 megatons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year; around twenty-two billion litres of water is consumed in the production of cigarettes every year. 

The situation is no different in India, where tobacco is one of the important cash crops. Today, India is the second-largest crop producer in the world after China. According to the Central Tobacco Research Centre of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), around 760 million kg of Tobacco is grown in India on about 40 lakh hectares of land. The sector provides jobs to millions of people and contributes as much as Rs.22,737 crore as excise duty and Rs.5,969 crore in foreign exchange to the national treasury. 

But a massive cost of tobacco cultivation is paid for by the country’s environment and people’s health. A report by the Ministry of health and family welfare says that “The total economic costs attributable to tobacco use from all diseases in India in the year 2011 for persons aged 35-69 amounted to Rs. 1,04,500 crores”. 

It is estimated that about 29% of the adult Indian population consumes Tobacco. Most commonly, it is consumed as Smokeless Tobacco Products like khaini, gutkha, and zarda. Smoking forms of tobacco are used as bidi, cigarette, hookah, etc. The smokeless forms pose high risks of oral and oesophageal cancer. Their consumption by pregnant women can also lead to stillbirth and low birth weight in infants. People addicted to smoking are, on the other hand, at very high risk of lung, oral cavity, pharynx, nasal cavity, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, kidney, ureter, urinary bladder, uterine cervix, and bone marrow cancers. 

Tobacco kills more people than tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria combined worldwide. It has also been reported that tobacco consumption in both smoking and chewing forms is significantly associated with severe COVID-19 symptoms. Tobacco users’ pre-existing health conditions, such as respiratory and cardiovascular disease, were observed to exacerbate disease symptoms, making treatment of COVID-19 patients more difficult owing to their fast clinical deterioration.

The environmental impacts of tobacco cultivation also add to India’s enormous economic burden. Tobacco is a very nutrient-hungry crop, and it depletes soil nutrients more rapidly. Tobacco cultivation requires the application of pesticides and fertilizers in large amounts, which degrade overall soil health. Tobacco cultivation results in soil erosion because it is typically grown as a monocrop (the practice of cultivating a single crop on the same farmland year after year), exposing the topsoil to wind and water. 

Besides, health risks are associated even with tobacco cultivation apart from consumption. Tobacco farmers are prone to suffer from a work-related ailment known as “Green Tobacco Sickness” (GTS), which is caused mainly by nicotine absorption via the skin. Nicotine is an addictive chemical found in tobacco. The studies carried out by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) on CTRI farms in Andhra Pradesh reveal discoloration of workers’ skin coming into contact with tobacco leaves. Headache, nausea/vomiting, dizziness, lack of appetite, exhaustion, and weakness are all signs of GTS, which can be caused even by tobacco storage in houses. Severe nicotine poisoning can adversely affect reproductive health and lead to breathlessness, blood pressure fluctuations, heart attack, and cancer. 

To cope with the tobacco epidemic, the Government of India enacted an extensive tobacco control law: The Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act 2003 (COTPA 2003), in 2004. This Act includes the prohibition of smoking in public places, advertisement of cigarettes and other tobacco products, sale of cigarettes or other tobacco products to anyone below the age of 18 years, and prohibition of selling areas like schools, colleges, etc. 

To make India addiction-free, the Government has launched programmes like National Tobacco Control Programme and Nasha Mukt Bharat Abhiyaan. Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers Welfare is also implementing a crop diversification programme. Farmers are encouraged to replace tobacco crops with less water-consuming alternatives to conserve water and soil. Under irrigated conditions, sugarcane, onion, maize, etc., and under rain-fed conditions, groundnut and soybean could be potential alternatives to tobacco farming. 

The WHO’s this year’s campaign on “Tobacco: Threat to our Environment” urges governments and policymakers to strengthen legislation and implementation of existing schemes that hold tobacco companies accountable for the environmental and economic costs of waste tobacco products. 

Categories
environment

Climate change & bugs

The insects that keep the world running by pollinating plants and supporting food chains face grave risks, a new study has found. 

The combination of climate change and heavy agriculture is having a profound impact on the abundance and diversity of insects, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature

In areas where substantial warming has been documented and where land has been converted for intensive agriculture — meaning it involves monoculture or the use of pesticides — insects were nearly 50 percent less abundant, and more than a quarter fewer species could be found, the study said. 

The research builds on a body of work that has some scientists ringing alarms about the pace of the decline of insect populations. The researchers used data collected around the globe in 264 previously published biodiversity studies, which included nearly 18,000 species, including bees, beetles, grasshoppers and butterflies. More than 750,000 data points are included in the study. 

“The magnitude of those changes is quite high,” said a lead author of the study, Charlie Outhwaite, a postdoctoral researcher at University College London. “At a global scale, we need to consider biodiversity and insects, specifically, in our global food chains.” 

David Wagner, a University of Connecticut entomologist who was not involved in the research, said the study thoroughly documents insect losses at a time when humans are “basically erasing large fractions of the tree of life in short periods of time.” 

Wagner — whose previous research has suggested the world loses 1 percent to 2 percent of its insects every year — said the new study is unique for its broad scale and size.

“There have been many studies on climate change and insects. This is perhaps the largest and most quantitative. It’s global in scope, and we really needed data from the Southern Hemisphere and tropical regions,” Wagner said. “That’s the cradle for the tree of life — 80 percent of all animals and plants are in the tropics.”

The new research found that tropical regions were among those most at risk for heavy losses. 

The paper has some limitations. It focused on how insects fared in different locations and conditions, but it did not evaluate how species fared over time. Insects face additional threats that could overlap or aggravate the impacts of temperature and landscape concerns, including adjustments to precipitation, pollution, use of pesticides and light pollution, among other factors. 

Insects play critical and often understated roles in ecosystems. They are a source of food for other creatures, help decompose organic waste and pollinate plants. 

“Insects tether everything together,” Wagner said. “If you remove the insects from the planet, basically life as we know it would grind to a halt. We would not have as much soil manufacture. There would be no bird life. There would be little food produced on land. We would lose many of our fruits and agriculture crops.”  

In some areas, there already are not enough insects providing their services, and humans must step in to keep systems running to provide for worldwide needs.  

“Take chocolate: Cocoa is primarily pollinated by midges, those annoying little flies you want to get rid of. But without them, we wouldn’t have cocoa,” Outhwaite said. “In many areas where cocoa is produced, they’re hand-pollinating plants to increase yields to keep up with demand.”  

There are signs of hope for insects in the new research. 

The researchers identified dramatic differences in the impacts of climate change depending on agricultural practices and how much natural habitat remained intact nearby.

“The landscape is providing more resources, which is leading to higher diversity in that area,” Outhwaite said. 

Leaving buffers of intact ecosystems could improve abundance and species diversity, and Wagner said it should prompt reconsideration of how the world farms and provides food to people.

“We really have to think hard about solutions and how we’re going to do agriculture” in a warmer future, he said. 

Not all insects evaluated in the study declined. Some regions with temperate climates fared better.

“We think this is probably because, in the temperate realm where climate is warming, species are closer to their cold limits than their hot limits,” Outhwaite said. “There are always winners and losers in these kinds of analyses.” 

Scientists have been ringing the bell for more than a decade with concerns about the pace at which the world is losing insects. Landmark studies have documented dramatic declines, particularly in Europe.

“We now have enough data finally,” Wagner said, “and we know the insect taxonomy well enough to say: ‘The data’s rock solid. We have a real problem here.’”

Categories
Biology Evolution human body

Osteoporosis and Menopause

Osteoporosis is a disease that weakens bones, increasing the risk of sudden and unexpected fractures. Literally meaning “porous bone,” osteoporosis results in an increased loss of bone mass and strength. The disease often progresses without any symptoms or pain.

Many times, osteoporosis is not discovered until weakened bones cause painful fractures usually in the back or hips. Unfortunately, once you have a broken bone due to osteoporosis, you are at high risk of having another. And these fractures can be debilitating. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help prevent osteoporosis from ever occurring. And treatments can slow the rate of bone loss if you already have osteoporosis.

What Causes Osteoporosis?

Though we do not know the exact 

of osteoporosis, we do know how the disease develops. Your bones are made of living, growing tissue. An outer shell of cortical or dense bone encases trabecular bone, a sponge-like bone. When a bone is weakened by osteoporosis, the “holes” in the “sponge” grow larger and more numerous, weakening the internal structure of the bone.

Until about age 30, people normally build more bone than they lose. During the aging process, bone breakdown begins to outpace bone buildup, resulting in a gradual loss of bone mass. Once this loss of bone reaches a certain point, a person has osteoporosis.

How Is Osteoporosis Related to Menopause?

There is a direct relationship between the lack of estrogen during perimenopause and menopause and the development of osteoporosis. Early menopause (before age 45) and any prolonged periods in which hormone levels are low and menstrual periods are absent or infrequent can cause loss of bone mass.

Until about age 30, people normally build more bone than they lose. During the aging process, bone breakdown begins to outpace bone buildup, resulting in a gradual loss of bone mass. Once this loss of bone reaches a certain point, a person has osteoporosis.

What Are the Symptoms of Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is often called a “silent disease” because initially bone loss occurs without symptoms. People may not know that they have osteoporosis until their bones become so weak that a sudden strain, bump, or fall causes a fracture or a vertebra to collapse. Collapsed vertebrae may initially be felt or seen in the form of severe back pain, loss of height, or spinal deformities such as stooped posture.

Who Gets Osteoporosis?

Important risk factors for osteoporosis include:

  • Age. After maximum bone density and strength is reached (generally around age 30), bone mass begins to naturally decline with age.
  • Gender. Women over the age of 50 have the greatest risk of developing osteoporosis. In fact, women are four times more likely than men to develop osteoporosis. Women’s lighter, thinner bones and longer life spans account for some of the reasons why they are at a higher risk for osteoporosis.
  • Ethnicity. Research has shown that Caucasian and Asian women are more likely to develop osteoporosis. Additionally, hip fractures are twice as likely to occur in Caucasian women as in African-American women. However, women of color who fracture their hips have a higher mortality.
  • Bone structure and body weight. Petite and thin women have a greater risk of developing osteoporosis in part because they have less bone to lose than women with more body weight and larger frames. Similarly, small-boned, thin men are at greater risk than men with larger frames and more body weight.
  • Family history. Heredity is one of the most important risk factors for osteoporosis. If your parents or grandparents have had any signs of osteoporosis, such as a fractured hip after a minor fall, you may be at greater risk of developing the disease.
  • Prior history of fracture/bone breakage.
  • Certain medications. The use of some medications, such as the long term use of steroids (like prednisone) can also increase your risk of developing osteoporosis.
  • Some medical conditions: Some diseases including cancer and stroke may increase your risk for osteoporosis.

How Do I Know if I Have Osteoporosis?

A painless and accurate test can provide information about bone health and osteoporosis before problems begin. Bone mineral density (BMD) tests, or bone measurements, are X-rays that use very small amounts of radiation to determine bone strength.

bone mineral density test is indicated for:

  • Women age 65 and older.
  • Women with numerous risk factors.
  • Menopausal women who have had fractures

How Is Osteoporosis Treated?

Treatments for established osteoporosis (meaning, you already have osteoporosis) include:

  • Medications such as alendronate (Binosto, Fosamax), ibandronate (Boniva), raloxifene (Evista), risedronate (Actonel, Atevia), and zoledronic acid (Reclast, Zometa)
  • Calcium and vitamin D supplements.
  • Weight-bearing exercises (which make your muscles work against gravity)
  • Injectable abaloparatide (Tymlos), teriparatide (Forteo) or PTH to rebuild bone
  • Injectable denosumab (Prolia, Xgeva) for women at high risk of fracture when other drugs don’t work
  • Hormone therapy

Is There a Safe Alternative to Hormone Therapy?

Alternatives to hormone therapy include:

  • Bisphosphonates. This group of medications includes the drugs alendronate (Binosto, Fosamax), risedronate (Actonel, Atelvia), ibandronate (Boniva) and zoledronic acid (Reclast, Zometa). Bisphosphonates are used to prevent and/or treat osteoporosis. All can help prevent spine fractures. Binosto, Fosamax,  Actonel, Atelvia, Reclast and Zometa can also reduce the risk of hip and other non-spine fractures.
  • Raloxifene (Evista). This drug is a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) that has many estrogen-like properties. It is approved for prevention and treatment of osteoporosis and can prevent bone loss at the spine, hip, and other areas of the body. Studies have shown that it can decrease the rate of vertebral fractures by 30%-50%. It may increase the risk of blood clots.
  • Teriparatide (Forteo) and abaloparatide (Tymlos), are a type of hormone used to treat osteoporosis. They help rebuild bone and increase bone mineral density. They are given by injection and are used as a treatment for osteoporosis.
  • Denosumab (Prolia, Xgeva) is a so-called monoclonal antibody — a fully human, lab-produced antibody that inactivates the body’s bone-breakdown mechanism. It is used to treat women at high risk of fracture when other osteoporosis drugs have not worked.

How Can I Prevent Osteoporosis?

There are multiple ways you can help protect yourself against osteoporosis, including:

  • Exercise. Establish a regular exercise program. Exercise makes bones and muscles stronger and helps prevent bone loss. It also helps you stay active and mobile. Weight-bearing exercises, done at least three to four times a week, are best for preventing osteoporosis. Walking, jogging, playing tennis, and dancing are all good weight-bearing exercises. In addition, strength and balance exercises may help you avoid falls, decreasing your chance of breaking a bone.
  • Eat foods high in calcium. Getting enough calcium throughout your life helps to build and keep strong bones. The U.S. recommended daily allowance (RDA) of calcium for adults with a low-to-average risk of developing osteoporosis is 1,000 mg (milligrams) each day. For those at high risk of developing osteoporosis, such as postmenopausal women and men, the RDA increases up to 1,200 mg each day. Excellent sources of calcium are milk and dairy products (low-fat versions are recommended), canned fish with bones like salmon and sardines, dark green leafy vegetables, such as kale, collards and broccoli, calcium-fortified orange juice, and breads made with calcium-fortified flour.
  • Supplements. If you think you need to take a supplement to get enough calcium, check with your doctor first. Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are good forms of calcium supplements. Be careful not to get more than 2,000 mg of calcium a day if you are 51 or older. Younger adults may be able to tolerate up to 2500 mg a day but check with your doctor. Too much can increase the chance of developing kidney stones.
  • Vitamin D. Your body uses vitamin D to absorb calcium. Being out in the sun for a total of 20 minutes every day helps most people’s bodies make enough vitamin D. You can also get vitamin D from eggs, fatty fish like salmon, cereal and milk fortified with vitamin D, as well as from supplements. People aged 51 to 70 should have 600 IU daily. More than 4,000 IU of vitamin D each day is not recommended. Talk to your doctor to see how much is right for you because it may harm your kidneys and even lower bone mass.
  • Medications. Most of the bisphosphonates that are taken by mouth as well as raloxifene (Evista) can be given to help prevent osteoporosis in people who are at high risk for fractures.
  • Estrogen. Estrogen, a hormone produced by the ovaries, helps protect against bone loss. It can be used as treatment for the prevention of osteoporosis. Replacing estrogen lost after menopause (when the ovaries stop most of their production of estrogen) slows bone loss and improves the body’s absorption and retention of calcium. But, because estrogen therapy carries risks, it is only recommended for women at high risk for osteoporosis and/or severe menopausal symptoms. To learn more, talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of estrogen therapy.
  • Know the high risk medications. Steroids, some breast cancer treatments (such as aromatase inhibitors), drugs used to treat seizures (anticonvulsants), blood thinners (anticoagulants), and thyroid medications can increase the rate of bone loss. If you are taking any of these drugs, speak with your doctor about how to reduce your risk of bone loss through diet, lifestyle changes and, possibly, additional medication.
  • Other preventive steps. Limit alcohol consumption and do not smoke. Smoking causes your body to make less estrogen, which protects the bones. Too much alcohol can damage your bones and increase the risk of falling and breaking a bone.
Categories
environment

What the Future of Renewable Energy Looks Like

Renewable energy capacity is set to expand 50% between 2019 and 2024, led by solar energy. This is according to The International Energy Agency (IEA)’s ‘Renewable 2020’ report, which found that solar, wind and hydropower projects are rolling out at their fastest rate in four years, making for the argument that the future lies in using renewable energy. 

The Future of Renewable Energy: Growth Projections

Renewable energy resources make up 26% of the world’s electricity today, but according to the IEA its share is expected to reach 30% by 2024. The resurgence follows a global slowdown in 2019, due to falling technology costs and rising environmental concerns.

Renewable energy in the future is predicted that by 2024, solar capacity in the world will grow by 600 gigawatts (GW), almost double the installed total electricity capacity of Japan. Overall, renewable electricity is predicted to grow by 1 200 GW by 2024, the equivalent of the total electricity capacity of the US. 

The IEA is an autonomous inter-governmental organisation that was initially created after the wake of the 1973 oil crisis. It now acts as an energy policy advisor to 29 member countries and the European Commission to shape energy policies for a secure and sustainable future.

Solar Will Become 35% Cheaper By 2024

When the sun shines onto a solar panel, energy from the sunlight is absorbed by the PV cells in the panel. This energy creates electrical charges that move in response to an internal electrical field in the cell, causing electricity to flow.

Industry experts predict that the US will double its solar installations to four million by 2023. In 2018, the UK had over one million solar panel installations, up by 2% from the previous year and Australia reached two million solar installations in the same year. A big reason for this increased uptake is the fall in prices to install the panels.

The cost of solar PV-based power declined by 13% in 2018, while Carbon Tracker predicts that 72% of coal-based power will become globally unprofitable by 2040. The IEA report found that solar energy will account for 60% of the predicted renewable growth, primarily due to its accessibility. Compared with the previous six-year period, expansion of solar energy has more than doubled. The cost of solar power is expected to decline by 15% to 35% by 2024, spurring further growth over the second half of the decade.

Future Capacity of Solar Energy

Wind and hydropower often require users to live in specific locations, but solar offers more freedom; the sun rises and sets on a predictable schedule, and it’s not as variable as running water or wind. Residential solar power is expected to expand from 58 GW in 2018 to 142 GW by 2024, and annual capacity additions are expected to more than triple to over 20 GW by 2024. China is expected to register the largest installed residential solar capacity in the world by 2024, with the strongest per capita growth in Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria.

Solar facilities will continue reducing their variability rates by storing electricity during the day and running at night. However, advanced solar plants will operate on higher DC to AC ratios, meaning they’ll deliver more consistent service for longer durations.

Commercial and residential buildings will keep running at full capacity even in periods of low sunlight. Closing the gaps between sunlight collection and electricity generation will spur residents and corporations to join the solar movement. Therefore, it’s imperative for governments to implement incentive and remuneration schemes, as well as effective regulation policies. For example, California has mandated that after 2020, solar panels must be installed on new homes and buildings of up to three storeys.

Commercial and industrial solar energy capacity is forecast to constitute 377 GW in 2024, up from 150 GW in 2018, with China predicted to be the largest growth market. This market remains the largest growth segment because solar power is usually more inexpensive and has a relatively stable load profile during the day, which generally enables larger savings on electricity bills.

You might also like: Top 5 Fastest-Growing Renewable Energy Sources Around the World

Onshore Wind Energy Capacity Will Increase 57% By 2024

To generate electricity using wind, wind turns the propeller-like blades of a turbine around a rotor, which spins a generator, which creates electricity.

The adoption of wind power is becoming more prominent due to increased capacity.

Onshore wind capacity is expected to expand by 57% to 850 GW by 2024. Annual onshore wind additions will be led by the US and China, owing to a development rush and a policy transition to competitive auctions respectively. Expansion will accelerate in the EU as competitive auctions continue to keep costs relatively low. These auctions will mean that growth in Latin America, the MENA region, Eurasia and sub-Saharan Africa will remain stable over the forecast period. 

Offshore wind capacity is forecast to increase almost threefold to 65 GW by 2024, representing almost 10% of total world wind generation. While the EU accounts for half of global offshore wind capacity expansion over the forecast period, on a country basis, China leads deployment, with 12.5 GW in development. The first large US capacity additions are also expected during the forecast period. 

Japan Expands Wind Energy

Japan is experimenting with the idea of installing offshore turbines to replace many of their nuclear reactors, a result of the country’s 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima. The company Marubeni recently signed a project agreement to build offshore farms in northern Japan, with each farm able to produce 140 MW of power.

Japanese lawmakers have created regulations to give developers more certainty in constructing sources of wind-based electricity; legislation outlining competitive bidding processes has been passed to ensure that building costs are reduced and developers consider potential capacity issues. The country’s Port and Harbour Law has also been revised to spur wind turbine construction in port-associated areas and other locations favourable to wind turbines. 

Grid integration, financing and social acceptance remain the key challenges to faster wind expansion globally. 

Hydroelectric Capacity Will Rise 9% By 2024

Hydropower plants capture the energy of falling water to generate electricity. A turbine converts the kinetic energy of falling water into mechanical energy. Then a generator converts the mechanical energy from the turbine into electrical energy.

According to the IEA, hydropower will remain the world’s primary source of renewable power in 2024. Capacity is set to increase 9% (121 GW) over the forecast period, led by China, India and Brazil. 25% of global growth is expected to come from just three megaprojects: two in China (the 16 GW Wudongde and 10 GW Baihetan projects) and one in Ethiopia (the 6.2 GW Grand Renaissance project).

However, there has been a slowdown in the two largest markets, China and Brazil; growth is challenged by rising investment costs due to limited remaining economical sites and extra expenditures in addressing social and environmental impacts.

Nevertheless, annual additions are expected to expand in sub-Saharan Africa and in the ASEAN region as untapped potential is used to meet rising power demand. 

Geothermal Capacity Will Increase 28% By 2024

To generate geothermal energy, hot water is pumped from deep underground through a well under high pressure. When the water reaches the surface, the pressure is dropped, which causes the water to turn into steam. The steam spins a turbine, which is connected to a generator that produces electricity. The steam cools off in a cooling tower and condenses back to water. The cooled water is pumped back into the Earth to begin the process again.

The US market for geothermal heat pumps will exceed $2 billion by 2024 as demand for efficient heating solutions increases. Transformed building codes will encourage a move to renewable heating and electricity systems in commercial and residential real estates. 

Geothermal capacity is anticipated to grow 28%, reaching 18 GW by 2024, with Asia responsible for one-third of global expansion, particularly Indonesia and the Philippines, followed by Kenya, whose geothermal capacity is set to overtake Iceland’s during the forecast period. 

The same research from Global Market Insights predicts the commercial market will experience the most considerable uptick; according to the Department of Energy, geothermal solutions will generate 8.5% of all electricity in the US by 2050. 

The Future Lies in Using Renewable Energy

Renewable energy will continue to rise in the upcoming decade, edging out fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

“This is a pivotal time for renewable energy,” said the IEA’s executive director, Fatih Birol. “Technologies such as solar and wind are at the heart of transformations taking place across the global energy system. Their increasing deployment is crucial for efforts to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, reduce air pollution, and expand energy access.”

Categories
Biology Covid-19 human body

Omicron XE variant symptoms, severity, treatment. cases so far

Mumbai is the first city to report a case of omicron XE variant, In the U.K., the XE variant was discovered and is a mutation of B.1 and B.2 strains of Omicron. The WHO is currently tracking the XE mutation as part of the Omicron variant. Micron symptoms can include fever, sore throat, scratchy throat, cough and cold, skin irritation and discoloration, gastrointestinal distress, and a dry cough.

Omicron XE Variant

It was detected in the United Kingdom in January 2022 that the new variant XE of COVID-19 was identified. The WHO considers it ten times more contagious than the BA.2 variant. India’s COVID-19 XE variant has recently been updated

Once again, there has been an increase in the Coronavirus outbreak. There has been a fourth wave of Coronavirus in Asia and Europe during the past few weeks. There has been a sudden increase in new cases suspected to be caused by the corona subvariant omicron BA.2. Researchers have found a new corona XE variant in this hour of crisis.

Omicron XE Variant Symptoms

According to the organization, it is difficult to say whether it is fatal given the current situation, but knowing the signs and symptoms will help one avoid contracting the infection. Here are some symptoms of this new variant of the Coronavirus.

This variant is currently being studied. It is common for such a condition to cause early symptoms like fever, sore throat, cough, mucus and cold, and stomach problems. Additionally, the new variant can be even more dangerous for those already ill.

Since it is a mutation of the original Omicron, the vaccine may affect the new variant. The omicron effect in India was different from that in the second wave because of the large number of vaccinations during the third wave.

Omicron XE Variant Severity

Doctor Allison Arwady, Commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Public Health, said Tuesday that omicron “is likely to spread rapidly” and even more rapidly than the delta variant responsible for most of the latest outbreaks in the U.S.

It’s probably three times as contagious as the delta variant. Director Rochelle Walensky said Omicron has a two-day doubling time shorter than delta, indicating higher transmissibility. According to a study released Tuesday, the variant of the virus that is causing a surge in infections in South Africa is better at evading vaccines and causing less severe illness.

However, the data also shows that although the number of cases is increasing, hospitalizations are not rising as fast, which leads scientists to believe that the risk of hospitalization due to the virus is lower than that related to delta or earlier variants. A study adjusted for vaccination status found that admitted adults diagnosed with COVID-19 were 29% fewer than those diagnosed with the wave in mid-2020.

Omicron XE Variant Cases so Far

It is not the vaccine but reaching those at risk that has been the challenge.

Upon being asked if an Omicron vaccine was required, Mahamud said it was too early to tell but stated that a global approach should be taken and that manufacturers should not have the sole decision-making authority.

If you go ahead with Omicron, then a new antigen may emerge that is more immunoevasive or transmissible,” he said. A WHO technical group had recently met to discuss vaccine composition.

In his view, the most effective way to reduce the impact of this variant would be for the WHO to have 70% of each country’s population vaccinated by July, rather than offering third and fourth doses in some nations.

As the number of cases due to Omicron has risen, some countries, including the United States, have shortened quarantine periods for healthy people and allowed them to return to work or school earlier.

According to Mahamud, leaders should decide how strong the local epidemic is. Countries with high numbers of cases may need to omit isolation periods to maintain essential services.

Some places have shut mainly it out, so maintaining the entire 14-day quarantine period might be the best option. You should invest heavily in keeping your numbers very low if your numbers are tiny.

Categories
environment Evolution human body

Environmental Effects of the Atomic Bomb

When an atomic or nuclear bomb detonates, the 1 megaton blast kills or poisons everything within a two-mile radius. The accident at the Chernobyl power plant in 1986 and the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 provide insight into the short and long-term effects of radiation and thermonuclear detonation on the environment. If enough nuclear weapons were exploded in a large-scale nuclear war, vast areas of the earth would become uninhabitable.

Immediate Environmental Effects

When an atomic bomb explodes, plutonium in the device undergoes fission, releasing enormous quantities of energy. The initial blast creates a blinding flash, followed by temperatures in the area of the explosion reaching upwards of 10 million degrees Celsius. Electromagnetic radiation leads to the formation of a fireball. A crushing wind caused by the initial blast destroys buildings and trees in its path. A single 15 kiloton bomb detonated over the center of Hiroshima near the end of World War II, destroying everything within a 1-mile radius of the city. The effect on the immediate environment is one of total devastation. The extreme heat of thermal radiation burns everything in its path, including animals, trees, buildings and people. Many of those who did not die from radiation or burns later developed cancers from the radiation.

Explosive Fallout

The detonation of an atomic bomb creates radioactive dust that falls out of the sky into the area around the site of the explosion. Wind and water currents carry the dust across a much larger radius than the initial explosion, where it contaminates the ground, water supply and the food chain. Initially, little was known about radioactive fallout. In the 1950s, scientists in the United States discovered from nuclear weapons testing that the particles in this dust were comprised of split atoms that were highly radioactive and dangerous. Radioactive particles from nuclear fallout also can contaminate both wild and domesticated animals, as well as agricultural plants.

Radiation Effects

The release of radiation from the Chernobyl power plant gives scientists an idea of what the effects would be on the environment in a small nuclear war. The amount of radiation released at Chernobyl is equivalent to the detonation of about a dozen atomic bombs at an altitude that would cause maximum blast damage. At Chernobyl, large amounts of radioactive particles called iodine-131 and cesium 137 were released into the environment during a fire that burned for 10 days. These isotopes are particularly dangerous to living organisms.

Water and Forest Contamination

Radioactive particles can travel from the site of an atomic bomb explosion and contaminate bodies of water, including aquatic life like fish. In addition, the fallout from the detonation of numerous atomic bombs would result in the contamination of berries and other plant life found in the surrounding areas and forests. Genetic mutations and disease in the generations of animals and humans following contamination would also occur. Animals in Chernobyl’s forests, for example, have high levels of radioactive cesium. Scientists expect the contamination to remain that way for decades.