Canadian Ice Shelves Rapidly Disappearing

According to new research published by Canadian scientists, two Canadian Arctic ice shelves have diminished by almost half in the last six years, damage that is most likely irreversible. The damage to the ice shelves was especially accelerated this past summer, when the largest ice shelf split in two; the other ice shelf has almost completely disappeared.

Ice shelves first began to form around 4,500 years ago and are much thicker than sea ice. Ice shelves in the Arctic region are the result of an accumulation of snow, sea ice, and occassionally glacial runoff. The ice shelves in the Arctic are, on average, 131 feet thick but can be as thick as 328 feet.

The two Arctic ice shelves were first discovered by researchers more than 100 years ago, when they were significantly larger than they are now. Research has indicated that between 1906 and 1982, there has been a 90 percent reduction in the amount of ice along Canada’s northern coastline. The Serson Ice Shelf and the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, which were both included in the study, are the result of the Ellesemere Island Ice Sheet, which broke up into six pieces years ago. The other pieces that broke off from the Ellesmere Island Ice Sheet have already been significantly diminished. The remaining ice shelves now cover an estimated total of 402 square miles.

Scientists point to global warming as the reason the ice shelves are rapidly shrinking. Northern Ellesmere Island, which is where the Canadian ice shelves are located, has seen a 1.8 degree Fahrenheit rise in temperatures every decade for the past fifty to sixty years. Disappearing ice means that the level of the global ocean will rise significantly in the years to come, which could wreak havoc on the coastline’s ecosystems.

The Serson Ice Shelf, one of the two ice shelves included in the research, is located off the northern coastline of Canada’s Ellesemere Island. The shelf shrank from 79.15 square miles to two remaning section five years ago and diminished even further this past summer. One section of the shelf has gone from 16 square miles to 9.65 square miles, while the other section has gone from 13.51 square miles to 2 square miles.

The Ward Hunt Ice shelf, the second ice shelf included in the study, is also shrinking rapidly. This summer, the shelf’s central area, which was 131.7 square miles last year, broke up into two separate shelves. The remaining shelves now measure 87.65 and 28.75 square miles. The shrinking of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf is especially troubling to scientists because it was located the furthest north and believe to be the most stable of the Arctic ice shelves.

The disappearing Canadian Arctic ice shelves are only the most recent problem facing the Arctic region in the face of global warming. The delicate region is experiencing temperature increases at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world, which will only continue to melt the ice. Studies have shown that the permanent ice cover in the Arctic is diminishing by 9 percent every ten years; if this continues, the Arctic could be completely ice free by the end of the century.

In an unusual twist to the global warming debate, National Geographic posted an article last week describing the “bright side” of global warming’s affect on the Arctic: a new study has shown that “the changing climate could improve air quality in the polar region.” The improvement in air quality could be attributed to an increased amount of rainfall throughout the world, which is the most effective way of removing pollution from the air. As a result, the pollution that originates in other countries before traveling north to the Arctic would be diminished, allowing for improved air quality.

Photo Credit: epa.gov/climatechange/kids/images/2-1-8-photo1.jpg

EPA Accused Of Wrongdoing Regarding Science Of Climate Change

The Environmental Protection Agency has been accused by a government watchdog agency of cutting corners when compiling information for a document regarding climate change. In response, the EPA contends that they “reasonably interpreted” the guidelines when putting together their report, noting that the agency “undertook a thorough and deliberate process in the development of this finding, including a careful review of the wide range of peer-reviewed science.”

A report released by the Inspector General contends that in the process of producing a scientific document that would influence the regulation of climate change restrictions, the EPA failed to take part in a necessary review process. The EPA document on climate change marked the first time the government began to regulate greenhouses gases, which was a controversial decision within the government. Of the allegations that the EPA cut corners, Inspector Arthur A. Elkins, Jr. said “while it may be debatable what impact, if any, this had on EPA’s finding, it is clear that EPA did not follow all the required steps.”

The investigation into the EPA was ordered by James Inhofe, a Republican senator from Oklahoma. Inhofe, who has denied the science of climate change, posited that “the very foundation of President Obama’s job-destroying agenda was rushed, biased, and flawed.” The lengthy report takes pains to accuse the EPA of wrongdoing by making the claim that the EPA intentionally misrepresented research regarding climate change.

The findings of the report concluded that before making the assertion that climate change is harmful to human health, the EPA should have sought out an independent peer review of the research. The peer review process is part of the necessary procedure required by the White House Office of Management and Budget guidelines. 

Rather than have the science peer reviewed, the EPA chose to use assessments and summaries by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council, among other sources. The report does concede, however, that the EPA “generally followed” requirements to support the proposal of their findings, but cut corners when it came to the peer review.

The report released by the Inspector General recommends that the EPA “revise its Peer Review Handbook to accurately reflect OMB (Office of Management and Budget) requirements…instruct program offices to state in proposed and final rules whether the action is supported by influential scientific information or a highly influential scientific assessment, and revise its assessment factors guidance to establish minimum review and documentation requirements for assessing and accepting data from other organizations.”

While the government watchdog agency disputes the validity of the EPA’s claims regarding climate change, multiple sources have verified the truth behind the EPA’s scientific research. David Doniger, the policy director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, has characterized the EPA’s scientific findings as an “enormous, multi-layered pyramid” that has been compiled over a number of years.

Despite James Inhofe’s insistence that the science behind climate change is fabricated, the work of the EPA has been undeniably enlightening. Besides writing the reports that influenced the government to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, the EPA has accomplished multiple milestones since its creation in 1970. The agency has been responsible for banning harmful substances such as certain pesticides, lead-based paint, and lead in gasoline. The agency has also set fuel efficiency standards, supervised the cleanup of contaminated areas, and reinforced the Clean Air Act, among many other beneficial acts for the environment. Regardless of the accusations leveled against the EPA, the most harmful thing in this situation would be to ignore the science behind climate change.

Photo Credit: nice.larc.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/epa_logo.jpg

Death Toll in Listeria Outbreak Continues To Rise

At least 13 people are dead in the wake of the deadliest food outbreak in more than a decade after listeria was traced to cantaloupe grown in Colorado. According to officials, the death toll attributed to infected cantaloupe is expected to rise; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that 72 illnesses, including the 13 deaths, have been attributed to the listeria outbreak. Additionally, three other deaths are being investigated as possibly caused by the same outbreak.

Currently, the listeria outbreak is the third deadliest food outbreak in U.S. history. The CDC reports that every year in the U.S., 48 million people get sick from tainted food; of these, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

Illnesses attributed to listeria have been reported in 18 states. States that the reported the most illnesses were Colorado (15 reported illnesses), Texas (14 illnesses), New Mexico (10 illnesses), and Oklahoma (8 illnesses). So far, deaths have been confirmed in Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. Health officials in Wyoming, Kansas, and New Mexico are currently investigating deaths that could be linked to the outbreak.

The listeria outbreak has been traced to Jensen Farms in Holly, Colorado. The farm recalled the tainted cantaloupes earlier this month after reports of listeria were reported. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who is investigating the outbreak, reported that listeria was present in cantaloupes grown at Jensen Farms as well as the farm’s packing facilities in Granada, Colorado.

The FDA has not yet released any information as to how the outbreak might have happened. Cantaloupe is particularly susceptible to foodborne illnesses due to its rough outer skin and soft interior. In addition, knives used to cut cantaloupe can transfer bacteria from the outside of the fruit when they reach the center.

The contaminated cantaloupe, which is from the brand Rocky Ford, were shipped between July 29th to September 10th to states all across the country. Affected cantaloupes could have been marked with several different stickers, including ones that read “Colorado Grown,” “Distributed by Frontera Produce,” or “Sweet Rocky Fords,” although not all the affected cantaloupes had a sticker.

Approximately 1600 serious cases of listeria are reported every year, 260 of which are fatal. The illness can grow at a variety of temperatures, including room temperature and refrigerator temperature and is most commonly found in cheese and deli meats.

According to the CDC, an average of one out of five people who contract listeria die from the disease. Healthy adults can generally consume listeria without becoming sick; the disease most often affects pregnant women, the elderly, and anyone with a weakened immune system. Symptoms of listeria include muscle aches, fever, nausea, and diarrhea. Affected victims of the current outbreak range in age from between 35 to 96 years old, with an average age of 78.

Dr. Robert Tauxe of the CDC has noted that the “long incubation period” of listeria is “a real problem” due to the fact that symptoms of listeria could take more than four weeks to appear. As a result, Tauxe believes that the number of illnesses and deaths caused by the listeria outbreak could increase.

Although listeria is not commonly found in produce, the cantaloupe outbreak is not the first outbreak. In 2009, sprouts were contaminated with listeria, and in 2010 celery was found to be contaminated. An outbreak of listeria in hot dogs killed 21 people in 1998, while another outbreak traced to soft cheese killed 52 people in 1985.

To avoid the current cantaloupe outbreak, health officials are recommending that anyone who might have a contaminated cantaloupe immediately throw it away and sanitize any surface it might have touched. In addition, washing any produce thoroughly before eating is always a wise choice, whether it’s cantaloupe or any other fruit or vegetable.

Photo Credit: ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos/oct96/k7388-11i.jpg

World Health Organization Ranks Cities By Air Quality

A survey released by the World Health Organization on Monday has ranked the world’s cities according to air quality. Cities in the Middle East and Asia ranked among the most polluted cities, while cities in the U.S. and Canada ranked among the least polluted.

The WHO conducted the study measuring air quality to bring attention to the problem of air pollution, which poses risks to human health. Every year, 1.34 million people die prematurely from causes related to poor air quality. On its website, the WHO notes that acute diseases, such as pneumonia, can be caused by air pollution, as well as chronic diseases such as lung cancer. Children and the elderly are particularly at risk, as are those with limited access to quality health care.

The list, which includes information for almost 1,100 cities in 91 countries, was compiled using country-reported data about air quality from between 2003 and 2010, with most of the data coming from 2008 and 2009. Data was taken from sources including publicly available websites, regional networks, reports, and other publications.

To assess the air quality of a city, the WHO measured the levels of airborne particles smaller than 10 micrometers, which are also known as PM10s. PM10s are made up of mostly nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide, which are released from car exhaust and power plants. PM10s pose a risk to respiratory health in humans; to lower the risk of health problems, the WHO recommends an upper limit of 20 micrograms per cubic meter.

Ahvaz, a city in southwestern Iran, has been given the title of the world’s most air polluted city. With a population of 1.3 million, Ahvaz has an annual PM10s average of 372 micrograms per cubic meter. The study notes that low-quality vehicle fuel and heavy industry practices in the area are the main causes for the poor air quality in the city.

Second on the list of the world’s most polluted cities was the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator, which has an annual PM10s average of 279 micrograms per cubic meter. Sanandaj, another city in western Iran, came in third with an annual PM10s average of 254 micrograms per cubic meter. Cities in India, Pakistan, and Botswana also ranked high on the list.

The problem of poor air quality has long been an issue in Asia. Contributing factors include lack of public transportation, high population densities, and lax regulations on air quality control. The WHO also notes that rapid industrialization and low-quality fuels used for cars and electricity are major components of the poor air quality.

To combat the problem of poor air quality, steps are being taken in polluted countries such as India. Large cities like Mumbai, New Delhi, and Kolkata have ordered that no more power plants can be constructed within the city limits; existing power plants are either being shut down or relocated. At the same time, however, a lack of efficient public transportation in these cities has caused a huge surge in ownership of private cars and SUVs. This poses its own set of problems, as these cars are major contributing factors to poor air quality.

The study also ranked cities with the best air quality. Cities in Canada and the U.S. ranked highly, due to the lower population density, climate, and strict regulations on air pollution. Whitehorse, the capital of Yukon territory, had an annual PM10s average of only 3 micrograms per cubic meter. Second on the list was Santa Fe, New Mexico, with an annual PM10s average of 6 micrograms per cubic meter. Washington D.C., Tokyo, and Paris were also given the distinction of having good air quality.

In addition to the data compiled about the presence of PM10s, the WHO also released a shorter list that examined the levels of PM2.5s, which are even finer dust particles in the air. Harmful levels of PM2.5s are 10 micrograms per cubic meter.

Photo Credit: niehs.nih.gov/health/assets/images/smoke_billowing_from_the_smoke_stacks.jpg

Boycott BP

Almost a year and a half has passed since the worst oil spill in U.S. history, but the aftereffects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster are still being felt. A federal report released today investigated the causes of the disaster and has come to the conclusion that BP is ultimately responsible for the oil spill. The BP oil spill wreaked havoc along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and killed thousands of animals. By boycotting BP, you can help take action against the company responsible for the worst oil disaster in U.S. history.

The report is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement. Findings contained in the report will be used by lawyers representing victims of the oil spill and by government agencies to incriminate BP, as the government is currently considering pressing both civil and criminal charges against the oil company. The report will also help to encourage reforms of offshore drilling regulations.

The BP disaster started on the night of April 20, 2010, when an explosion occurred on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, killing 11 men and injuring 17 others. Fire from the explosion lasted for 36 hours until the rig eventually sank. On April 22nd, an oil leak was discovered. Oil continued to flow into the Gulf of Mexico for three months after the explosion; a total of 4.9 million barrels had spilled by the time the oil flow was capped.

Extensive efforts have been made in the aftermath of the oil spill to determine the cause of the explosion. The newest federal report states that BP is mostly to blame. Allegations in the report contend that BP made a series of critical errors in the days leading up to the explosion and subsequent spill. Evidently, BP violated seven federal regulations, which would have greatly increased the risk of a disaster on the rig. Violations include improper maintenance that would have maintained the well and kept it under control, failure to perform a cement job that would have kept gas and oil inside the well, and failure to properly maintain the blowout preventer.

Prior to this most recent report, other investigations into the BP disaster have blamed other factors that influenced the spill, including faulty equipment and mistakes made by executives and crew members. The federal report is groundbreaking because it lays most of the blame on BP. The report notes, however, that several other companies had a hand in the disaster, most notably the company Transocean, who owned the Deepwater Horizon rig.

As a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, oil slicks wreaked havoc on the delicate ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico. As of November 2010, 6,814 animals had lost their lives due to the oil spill. In addition to this tally, it is suspected that a group of 67 dolphins who were found dead were also killed as a result of the disaster. The spill has also affected eight national parks and has affected tourism in several states, costing the area millions of dollars in lost business. Fisheries have also been negatively affected due to the quality of the water in the aftermath of the spill.

The findings of the report draw attention to the fact that BP has yet to accept full responsibility for the massive oil spill that was caused by greed and carelessness. Offshore drilling is still a huge problem in the U.S., and something must be done about it before another disaster happens. To take action against the greedy tactics of big oil companies, start by signing this petition encouraging the government to seize BP’s assets. An even more effective tactic is to completely boycott BP by refusing to purchase gas from them. BP also owns Arco gas stations, AMPM convenience stores, and Castrol. Taking action against BP by boycotting their products is a small but effective step to cut down the company that is responsible for the deaths of thousands of animals and the destruction of their ecosystems.

Photo Credit: rst.gsfc.nasa.gov/Sect3/tsr-salazar-oil-spill-cnn-640×480.jpg

Increasing Amount Of Bacteria Found In Warming Global Ocean

A 200-page paper produced by Project CLAMER suggests that the rising temperatures of the global ocean could cause serious illnesses. With the oceans becoming increasingly warmer, a genus of bacteria called Vibrio is becoming is spreading. The Vibrio genus causes food poisoning, cholera, septicemia, and gastoenteritis.

The spread of bacteria in the ocean puts many people at risk for contamination, which will then cost a large amount of money in health costs. The paper, which is the result of more than 100 projects funded by the European Union since 1998, suggests that “millions of euros in health costs may result from human consumption of contaminated seafood, ingestion of waterborne pathogens, and, to a lesser degree, through direct occupational or recreational exposure to marine disease. Climatic conditions are playing an increasingly important role in the transmissions of these diseases.”

Carlo Heip, the director of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Sea Research, told the Associated Press that the Vibrio genus of bacteria has been observed since the 1960s, and that “when the temperature in the North Sea began to increase at the end of the 80s, the Vibrios began to increase. One of those Vibrios is the cholera species.” Heip went on to note that although the evidence is “anecdotal,” a large number of people in the Baltic region were afflicted with gastroenteritis in 2006. Even though there is no solid proof that the gastroenteritis is due to bacteria in the ocean, Heip indicates that it is a strong possibility that Vibrio is the reason. Heip also noted that “things are changing in the ocean much more rapidly than we thought was possible.” He uses an example of a changing fish population in the North Sea; larger species are moving towards the Arctic, while smaller species are taking their place in the North Sea.

Katja Philippart, a marine scientist who was involved in the study, noted that “what was striking to me was the enormous pile of evidence that things are already happening. There is so much happening already. We are just in the midst of it.” In an ironic twist, Philippart stated that effects of global warming, such as acidification, could further contribute to the phenomenon, creating something of a vicious cycle. As acidification of the ocean increases, algae loses the capacity to store carbon dioxide, which means there will be more carbon dioxide in the air- something that leads to global warming.

In addition to the research about bacteria spreading in the ocean, the paper also highlights several other concerns about global warming’s effects on the ocean. Risks include melting ice, which contributes to rising sea levels and coastal erosion. In addition, the risk of storms is increasing, both in frequency and intensity. Finally, the chemical balance of sea water is changing; acidification and deoxygenation are two chemical changes that are already occuring in the water. Global warming has long been a concern of the ocean; as glaciers continue to melt, sea levels rise, which could potentially be disastrous in years to come for coastal residents. The latest information about bacteria concerning public health draws attention to the fact that global warming is extremely harmful to not only the environment, but the people who inhabit it as well.

The paper was produced by Project CLAMER, which is a collaboration of 17 European ocean institutes. The paper was released in advance of a two-day conference in Brussels, which will further discuss the problems the ocean is facing due to the advance of global warming. The latest news of global warming’s harmful effects will continue to shed light on a problem in dire need of a solution.

Photo Credit: earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/OceanCarbon/images/ocean_surface.jpg

Study Suggests Only 14% Of Earth’s Species Have Been Identified

A recent study suggests that despite hundreds of years worth of scientific research dedicated to identifying our planet’s species, only 14% of them have been cataloged. The study predicts that Earth is home to 8.7 million species, only 1.2 million of which are currently known to scientists.

The study was conducted to determine how close scientists are to identifying and cataloging all of Earth’s species. The findings of the study have confirmed that “we are way off” from becoming familiar with every species, says Boris Worm, a co-author of the study.

Worm has noted that several classes of living things, such as mammals and birds, are close to being completely identified. Other classes, however, such as fungi, are still a long way from being completely identified. The study mentions that only seven percent of the world’s fungi have been identified, and less than 10% of the ocean’s life forms have been identified.

The extensive knowledge of mammals and other prominent life forms is due in large part to the physical characteristics they possess. In the study, Worm notes that life forms that are “conspicuous” and “relatively large” have been identified primarily because they are “easy to find”; conversely, microscopic forms of life such as fungi are much harder to identify. The ocean’s life forms present another challenge, as the study of the depths of the ocean is much more difficult to conduct than the study of life on land.

Before this most recent study was published, many other attempts have been made to predict the amount of species living on Earth. Previous estimates have ranged between three million and one hundred million species. Of the 8.7 million species currently estimated, Worm states that “there is an age of discovery ahead of us when we could find out so much more of what lives with us on this planet.”

To determine the percentage of undiscovered species, the authors of the study had to group species into several different categories. First, similar species were divided into a group known as a genus, then were divided into a broader group known as a family. The subdivisions are, in order: genera, families, order, classes, and phyla. Broader groupings continued until all species were divided into one of five kingdoms- animals, plants, fungi, chromists, and protozoa. Then, using statistics derived from the groupings, researchers were able to predict the number of species on Earth. The method used to determine the number of species is called linear regression.

One of the most difficult part of the study is dealing with the rate of extinction that continues to wipe out species at an alarming rate. Worm stated that rates of extinction have climbed to ten to a hundred times their natural level, which challenges the process of identifying new species. Worm described the process as discovering “nature’s library, and we’ve only begun to decipher the first ten books…we’re throwing out entire books without having a look at them.”

The study has drawn criticism from some researchers, who have called the study unreliable. Critics of the study have noted that instead of using linear regression to determine the amount of species, the authors of the study should have used a different technique called ordinal regression. Using ordinal regression, critics say, would have provided a much more accurate number, which could have been either much higher or much lower than 8.7 million.

The results of the study have indicated that it is crucial to continue to study and discover new species so that we might get a better look at the biodiversity of the planet. With the current rate of extinction, however, species are being wiped out even before they are discovered, highlighting the importance of preserving our environment before even more species have gone extinct.

Photo Credit: research.gov/common/images/Common/TheGreatPondNSF–rgov-253X168.jpg

Astronomers Discover New Planet That Could Be Inhabitable

Astronomers have announced the discovery of a new planet just outside our solar system that they believe could potentially be inhabitable. The planet, which is being referred to by scientists as HD85512b for the time being, was discovered along with approximately 50 other planets.

The discovery was announced on Monday at a conference in Moran, Wyoming. Unlike the other planets that were discovered around the same time, HD85512b is unique because scientists believe it is just barely in a habitable zone known as the “Goldilocks zone”- not too hot and not too cold for the presence of liquid water. Scientists have indicated that the presence of liquid water is a crucial element of supporting Earth-like life.

The recently discovered group of planets, including HD85512b, were discovered by the European Southern Observatory. The observatory employs an instrument specifically designed to look for new planets called HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher), which is located at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile. HARPS uses a radial velocity technique to study celestial bodies and has discovered more than 150 planets in the last eight years.

The potentially habitable planet was observed more than 1,000 times over the course of two hundred nights of tracking using HARPS in Chile. Michel Mayor, the leader of the HARPS team, said that “the harvest of discoveries from HARPS has exceeded all expectations and includes an exceptionally rich population of super-Earths and Neptune-type planets hosted by stars very similar to our Sun.”

HD85512b is not the first potentially habitable planet to be discovered. In 2010, a planet called Gliese 581g was named as an “earth-like planet.” The credibility of Gliese 581g has been disputed, however, with some critics referring to the planet’s existence as a data glitch.

HD85512b is approximately 3.6 times the mass of Earth. Temperatures on the newly discovered planet range between 85 to 120 degrees with a very humid climate. Researchers have been quick to point out that describing the planet as potentially habitable indicates that it could support life, but not necessarily human life. Instead, the planet would most likely be able to support life forms that were shorter and squatter than humans, given the planet’s gravity, which is about 1.4 times greater than Earth’s.

Lisa Kaltenegger, an expert on exoplanets, has noted that “this is the lowest-mass confirmed planet discovered by the radial velocity method that potentially lies in the habitable zone of its star, and the second low-mass planet discovered by HARPS inside the habitable zone.”

In order for HD85512b to be considered habitable, it would have to be approximately 50% covered by clouds. Earth has around 60% cloud cover, so scientists have deemed 50% reasonable for the new planet. The presence of cloud cover is an important factor in the presence of liquid water on an planet.

The planet exists in the constellation Vela and circles an orange dwarf star about 36 light-years from Earth. A year on HD85512b is only 60 days. The planet’s sun is about 1,800 degrees cooler than our sun, indicating that the planet might not be too hot to support life. Other factors that indicate the potential habitability of the planet are its orbit, which is almost completely circular, providing a stable climate. In addition, the planet’s parent star is older and less active than the Earth’s sun, which decreases the chances of electromagnetic storms that could damage the planet’s atmosphere.

The discovery of HD85512b “demonstrates the possibility of discovering other super-Earths in the habitable zones around stars similar to the Sun,” said Mayor. He also noted that with the increasing amount of newly discovered celestial bodies “we should have the first list of potentially habitable planets in the Sun’s neighborhood” within the next ten to twenty years. To continue studying new planets, scientists have plans to build new instruments, including a replica of HARPS, which will be installed in the Canary Islands to observe the northern sky. In addition, another planet-hunter, known as ESPRESSO, will be installed in 2016 on the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope.

Photo Credit: ornl.gov/info/library/ornlnews/images/new-hot-yoga-goldilocks-exoplanet-found_39499_600x450.jpg

Apple Accused Of Widespread Pollution In China

Apple has recently come under fire from Chinese environmental groups who are accusing the corporation of polluting their country with their poor environmental practices. In a 46-page report containing research compiled over the last seven months, five environmental groups have highlighted Apple’s unsustainable production techniques. The Chinese environmental groups have stated that communities and their surrounding environment have been negatively impacted by “suspected Apple suppliers.”

The report, titled “The Other Side of Apple II- Pollution Spreads Through Apple’s Supply Chain,” was posted on the website for China’s Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs. The report holds that 27 supposed Apple suppliers are responsible for severe pollution in China. The report states that the corporation “greatly endangers the public’s health and safety.” Furthermore, the report has accused the company of taking advantage of loopholes regarding environmental laws in developing nations, allowing the company to turn large profits.

In accusing the corporation of irresponsible environmental performance, the report states, “a large number of IT supplier violation records have already been publicized; however, Apple chooses not to face such information and continues to use these companies as suppliers. This can only be seen as a deliberate refusal of responsibility.”

The findings of the report reveal that the company is responsible for widespread environmental degradation, which has subsequently caused health problems for citizens of China. The environmental grievances include extreme pollution of the Yangtze river, which has become so contaminated that the water is unable to be used for any purpose. The pollution, and other problems such as reported toxic wastes, have been allowed to occur due to improper handling of waste.

As a result of the pollution, the report notes that cancer rates have been on the rise; in one village of fifty people, nine new cases of cancer were recently reported. The report also states that in the city of Kunshan, located in eastern China, the air quality is so poor due to the presence of two electronic companies that villagers have been forced to send their children to schools outside of the city.

So far, Apple has declined to supply the information regarding who the suppliers are in China. Apple does not actually manufacture any of their products themselves, yet the company has been hesitant to ever reveal the names of suppliers.

The most recent report of Apple’s unsafe environmental practices is not the first instance of Apple being accused of having a negative impact on the environment. In February of this year, the company admitted that 137 employees in China had been poisoned in 2009 by a chemical that is used to clean iPhone screens. More recently, three employees were killed in May at a Foxconn factory in China where the iPad 2 was being produced.

In response to “The Other Side of Apple,” a spokesperson for the corporation has announced that “Apple is committed to driving the highest standards of social responsibility…we require that our suppliers provide safe working conditions, treat workers with dignity and respect, and use environmentally responsible manufacturing processes wherever Apple products are made.”

China, a country that has routinely been criticized by environmentalists for its poor environmental track record, is nonetheless the production site of many American corporations. Because environmental regulations are less strict in China and other developing nations, large corporations have been able to manufacture products in an ecologically irresponsible way. In the wake of the newest revelations regarding Apple’s environmental track record, it is not yet clear whether the company will begin to take more responsibility for the havoc they are wreaking on the environment.

Photo Credit: dnr.mo.gov/env/hwp/electronics/apple_logo.jpg

International Space Station Could Be Evacuated In November

Less than two months after the space shuttle program officially ended, NASA is facing another setback, this time regarding the International Space Station. NASA officials confirmed yesterday that it was a possibility that astronauts may need to temporarily abandon the space station this fall.

NASA’s shuttle program ended last month after over 30 years and over 100 missions. Prior to the program’s shutdown, NASA announced that American astronauts would still be active on the International Space Station. Instead of flying in American shuttles, however, American astronauts would be shuttled to the space station by Russian spacecraft. Plans have now changed following the crash of an unmanned Russian spacecraft stocked with supplies that was destroyed last week during liftoff from Kazakhstan.

Russia’s Soyuz rockets, the vehicles that would have taken Americans to the moon, are currently grounded until the cause of the crash is determined. The Russian space agency has put together an investigation team, but the answer to the crash may not be determined for a while. So far, none of the debris from the spacecraft has been discovered, as it landed in a remote and heavily forested area of Siberia.

According to Mike Suffredini, NASA’s space station program manager, if the Soyuz rockets continue to remain out of use past mid-November, it will be impossible to launch any new crews of astronauts before the current crew of the space station is scheduled to leave. The unstable future of the Russian spacecraft could potentially mean the need to vacate the space station.
The launch of the next crew due to head to the International Space Station, scheduled for September 22nd, has already been delayed. In order to keep the space station with a full staff of six for the longest amount of time possible, three of the astronauts currently onboard will remain in space for an extra week; prior to the failure of the Russian supply spacecraft, the astronauts were due to return to Earth on September 8th. Suffredini noted that the astronaut’s extra time on board will further contribute to more scientific research.

If the International Space Station is indeed evacuated, NASA confirmed that it is possible to keep the station operating for as long as necessary, assuming the station’s systems are performing correctly.

The International Space Station, which currently orbits the planet 240 miles above land, was launched in 2000 and cost $100 billion. The space station has never been completely evacuated; ever since its launch, it has been continuously inhabited by astronauts. The only other time NASA considered abandoning the space station was in the wake of the Columbia disaster in 2003. Instead of completely evacuating the space station then, the normally six-person crew was cut down to two astronauts due to the limited lack of supplies.

Currently, the space station is plentifully stocked with supplies; Atlantis, the last shuttle in NASA’s now defunct program, dropped off supplies during its final mission. NASA has noted that due to the amount of supplies onboard, the space station could potentially go on until next summer.

If NASA makes the decision to evacuate the space station, action must be taken soon to accomodate several factors. Both the American and Russian space agencies require that landings must happen at least an hour after dawn and an hour before sunset in order to aid any search or rescue operations that could become necessary. The conditions at Soyuz’s landing site in Kazakhstan could potentially be an issue; the landing window for the first crew closes for five weeks starting September 19th, while the landing window for the second crew closes around November 19th. Because Soyuz spacecraft is only designed to spend about 200 days in space, waiting for a new window of opportunity to open would surpass the 200 day mark.

Photo Credit: nasa.gov/images/content/329096main_earthday1_420.jpg