Coral Reef Discovered Near Mouth of Amazon River

While currently more than half of the world’s coral reefs are potentially threatened by humans, scientists just made an incredible discovery: a coral reef the size of Delaware flourishing near the mouth of the murky and Amazon River in Brazil.Coral reefs don’t typically thrive in murky waters, which makes the discovery even more shocking.

Long-eared bat denied habitat protection under the Endangered Species Act

Although northern long-eared bat populations have declined by 90 percent in their core range, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today said it will not protect any of its critical habitat, saying it would not be “prudent” for the species. Under the Endangered Species Act, the government can opt not to designate critical habitat if there is factual evidence that a species would be placed at greater risk of extinction from poachers, collectors or vandals. But in the case of the northern long-eared bat, which is listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, there is almost no evidence that the species is at risk from these types of threats. Instead its dramatic decline has been driven mostly by disease and habitat loss.  “This is a terrible turn of events for the northern long-eared bat,” said Tanya Sanerib, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If you don’t protect the places endangered species live, it becomes that much harder to save them. This is yet another instance where the Fish and Wildlife Service has gone out of its way to appease special interests rather than protecting our most vulnerable animals.” 

Chernobyl, three decades on

It was 30 years ago that a meltdown at the V. I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station in the former Soviet Union released radioactive contaminants into the surroundings in northern Ukraine. Airborne contamination from what is now generally termed the Chernobyl disaster spread well beyond the immediate environs of the power plant, and a roughly 1000-square-mile region in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia remains cordoned off, an exclusion zone where human habitation is forbidden.The radiation spill was a disaster for the environment and its biological inhabitants, but it also created a unique radio-ecological laboratory.

The ohia tree is in trouble

The ʻohiʻa is Hawaii’s iconic tree, a keystone species that maintains healthy watersheds and provides habitat for numerous endangered birds. But a virulent fungal disease, possibly related to a warmer, drier climate, is now felling the island’s cherished `ohi`a forests.Hawaii’s isolation, 2,390 miles from the North American mainland, has given the island chain a unique array of species found nowhere else, including the ʻohiʻa lehua, an evergreen in the myrtle family with delicate pom-pom-shaped flowers composed of clusters of showy stamens in a range of hues from red and orange to pale yellow. In 2010, homeowners on the Big Island of Hawaii began reporting that ʻohiʻa in their upland rainforest were dying without apparent cause. Researchers named the mysterious condition “Rapid ʻOhiʻa Death” (ROD). On Google Earth, you can see the telltale brown streaks in the Puna forest reserve, Hawaii's largest remaining upland rainforest located on the slope of Kilauea volcano, where many ʻohiʻa lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha) trees have already succumbed. If you scroll over 60 miles to the west to the other side of the island, the green canopy behind Kealakekua Bay on the Kona coast — where Captain James Cook first set foot on Hawaii and was later killed — is pocked with the bleached skeletons of dead and dying trees. Scenes like these have become commonplace in the American West, where several conifer species, weakened by long-term drought and warmer temperatures, have been decimated by bark beetles. Researchers are wondering if climate change may also have stressed ʻohiʻa trees, perhaps helping to trigger the current outbreak on Hawaii. The fungus clogs the vascular system of the trees, making them wilt and die as if from a drought.An overall decrease in trade winds has created drier conditions in recent years in parts of the islands, at the same time that rising temperatures have warmed things up in the cool upland forests where ʻohiʻa thrive. 

Do you live in one of America's worst cities for air pollution?

The American Lung Association has released its annual “State of the Air” report and its findings are troubling. Most Americans live in counties with air pollution so bad that it is a severe risk to their health. According to the report, that means 166 million people are at risk of an early death and significant health problems including asthma, developmental damage and cancer.Without a doubt the most concerning discovery made by the American Lung Association was that short-term particle pollution had increased sharply since last year’s report: “Short-term spikes” of particle pollution hit record levels in seven of the 25 most polluted U.S. cities in this period.

Australian river on fire with fracked coal seam gas

So much methane is bubbling into a river surrounded by hundreds of fracking wells that it's a fire hazard! Local campaigners blame the coal seam gas industry for the gas releases which are spreading along Queensland's river Condamine and gaining in intensity.So much methane gas is now bubbling up through the Condamine River in Queensland, Australia that it exploded with fire and held a large flame.Gas seeping into the river began shortly after coal seam gas operations started nearby and is growing in volume and the stretch of river affected is expanding in length. 

VW agrees to buy back or “fix” 500,000 cars in North America

With only days to go before the deadline, Volkswagen AG (VW) and the U.S. government reached a partial settlement over how to deal with the automaker’s “dieselgate” emissions scandal.Volkswagen agreed to fix or buy back some 500,000 vehicles caught up in the crisis. What wasn’t agreed upon is how much the company should pay in fines and compensation to consumers affected by the crisis. 

Sandhill cranes vs windmills

The current placement of wind energy towers in the central and southern Great Plains may have relatively few negative effects on sandhill cranes wintering in the region, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study published today.Midcontinental sandhill cranes are important to sporting and tourism industries in the Great Plains, an area where wind energy development recently surged. Scientists with the USGS compared crane location data from the winters of 1998-2007 with current wind tower sites in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico prairies. Findings showed only a seven percent overlap between cranes and towers, and that most towers have been placed in areas not often used by cranes during the winter. 

USGS study shows why some chemicals bio-accumulate and others don't

Researchers have figured out what makes certain chemicals accumulate to toxic levels in aquatic food webs. And, scientists have developed a screening technique to determine which chemicals pose the greatest risk to the environment.According to the study led by the U.S. Geological Survey, two traits were identified that indicate how chemicals can build up and reach toxic levels:  how easily a chemical is broken down or metabolized by an organism and the chemical’s ability to dissolve in water.These traits account for how most chemicals concentrate, or biomagnify, in ever-higher levels as one goes up the food chain from its base to its top predators, such as fish, people, or polar bears. Chemicals that have the ability to biomagnify, such as DDT, can have adverse effects on human and wildlife health and the environment.  

Ocean currents push phytoplankton and pollution faster than thought

The billions of single-celled marine organisms known as phytoplankton can drift from one region of the world's oceans to almost any other place on the globe in less than a decade, Princeton University researchers have found.Unfortunately, the same principle can apply to plastic debris, radioactive particles and virtually any other man-made flotsam and jetsam that litter our seas, the researchers found. Pollution can thus become a problem far from where it originated within just a few years.