Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Our Planet Is Exploding With Ocean 'Dead Zones'

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/map-of-worldwide-marine-dead-zones-2013-6

Dead Zones

The world's oceans are exploding with dead zones, regions where the water is so depleted of oxygen that fish and other sea life that live near the bottom cannot survive.

Dead zones are human-caused. They occur when crop fertilizer and cow poop, containing high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous, get washed into streams and rivers and out to the ocean.

The nutrient-rich farm runoff triggers huge algae blooms. When the algae dies, it sinks down to the bottom of the water. Bacteria living in the water decompose the dead algae, and use up the oxygen. Without enough oxygen in the water, fish and shellfish suffocate and die.

The number and size of marine dead zones has doubled each decade since the 1960s, mostly due to agricultural pollution, according to study published in the journal Science. They are concentrated on the East coast of the U.S. and Europe.

Declines in oxygen are associated with an expanded use of industrial nitrogen fertilizer, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. The impacts of these fertilizers, however, were not observed until at least a decade later.

In 2008, dead zones affected more than 245,000 square kilometers of the planet's ocean, an area approximately the size of the United Kingdom.

Gulf of Mexico dead zoneThis summer, researchers predict that the the Gulf of Mexico will be strangled by one of the largest dead zones on record.

The oxygen-deprived area could cover an area roughly the size of New Jersey, acc! ording t o a statement from Michigan University.

Spring floods across the Midwest are blamed for this year's record-breaking dead zone, which shoots nitrogen-rich freshwater from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. The amount of nitrogen entering the Mississippi has jumped 300% since the 1960s, regardless of an especially wet spring.

Dead are zones are not visible — you can't see a decrease in oxygen — but their existence endangers all marine life on the seabed, and therefore, the commercial fisheries that depend on creatures like fish, clams, and shrimp to stay in business.

SEE ALSO: This Rare, Clear View Of Alaska Is A Sign Of Bad Things

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Monday, June 24, 2013

This Plant Kills And 'Eats' Sheep

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/sheep-eating-puya-chilensis-plant-flowers-for-the-first-time-2013-6

A giant plant that traps sheep and then feeds off their nutrients once they've died has bloomed for the first time since it started growing 15 years ago. 

The plant, scientific name Puya chilensis, resides in the Glasshouse at the Royal Horticultural Society's (RHS) Garden Wisely located outside of London. It stands 10-feet high with bright menacing spikes.  

In its native Andes habitat, the plant uses its giant spines to capture sheep and other animals. The trapped animals starve to death and the plant absorbs the nutrients from their decaying bodies. 

It's difficult to get the plant to flower in captivity due its unusual diet. The U.K. garden was finally able to get their picky plant to produce a bloom by feeding it liquid fertilizer, the plant's caretaker said in a statement.

Each bloom is fairly big — about 2 inches across with enough "nectar for a person to drink," the RHS said. 

Take a look at the menacing plant in the pictures below:

Puya chilensis

Puya chilensis plant

SEE ALSO: What Our World Would Like Without Bees

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Fruits And Vegetables Are More Aware Than You Think

Source: http://gizmodo.com/fruits-and-vegetables-are-more-aware-than-you-think-547960814

Fruits And Vegetables Are More Aware Than You Think

You might not think that spinach knows what's up, but the produce in your fridge is still alive and aware. Which is creepy. But kind of awesome. According to new research, fruits and vegetables still have circadian rhythms up to a week after being harvested. And they respond to light patterns by producing chemical compounds to protect themselves against herbivores.

When researchers subjected fruits and vegetables to light and dark based on when insect predators sleep and wake, the plants recognized the patterns and generated protective compounds called glucosinolates in response. And when samples of cabbage were put on the same light/dark schedule as looper moth caterpillars they were damaged the least by the predators, compared with other samples on different light cycles.

Lettuce, spinach, zucchini, sweet potatoes, carrots and blueberries all defended themselves similarly, though through different chemical mechanisms, when put on the looper moth caterpillar schedule. The research is interesting in itself, but more importantly has potential applications for reducing pesticide use in harvested crops. Though it may seem like protecting growing plants is the only goal, fruits and vegetables must also be safeguarded from pests after they are harvested. Plants' own defenses could reduce the need for harsh pesticides in the future. That zucchini knows when you eat ice cream in the middle of the night and it's throwing shade. [National Geographic]

Image by Africa Studio/Shutterstock

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

25,000 Bees Died In This Parking Lot Because Landscapers Allegedly Didn't Read Insecticide Instructions

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/death-of-thousands-of-bees-due-to-insecticide-2013-6

Dead bee

A Target parking lot in Wilsonville, Oregon, was the site of a massive bumblebee kill on Monday, June 17, the cause of which is still under investigation.

An estimated 25,000 bumblebees were found littering the ground, according to the Xerces Society, an insect conservation group based in Portland. Honeybees and beetles were also among the dead.   

The Oregon Department of Agriculture is still investigating why the bees died, but the Xerces Society guesses that pesticide poisoning was at play.

On Saturday, a landscaping company sprayed an insecticide called Safari on dozens of European linden trees in the parking lot, Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reports. Safari is a class of neonicotinoid pesticide that is highly toxic to bees

The executive director of the Xerces Society, Scott Hoffman Black, believes the blooming linden trees were sprayed in error: "Evidently they didn't follow the label instructions. This should not have been applied to the trees while they're in bloom," he told OPB. The bees were feeding on the nectar and pollen of the trees.

It's also possible that the insects were killed by a poisonous species of linden tree, under which the thousands of lifeless bodies were found.  

Rich Hatfield, a conservation biologist with the Xerces Society, began receiving calls from shoppers on Monday about clusters of dead bees in the parking lot. When Hatfield arrived at the scene, the bees "were literally falling out of the trees," he said in a statement.

"To our knowledge this is one of the largest documented bumble bee deaths in the Western U.S. It was heartbreaking to watch," Hatfield said.  

The timing of the mass bee kill is interesting as it coincides with National Pollinator Week, an event designed to draw attention to the worldwide decline of bee populations. Bees are responsible for up to $200 Billion in agriculture, and a hypothetical world without them would be almost apocalyptic.

Below are pictures of the parking lot where the tragedy occurred.  

Dead bees

DSCN1930 1024x768

Dead bees

SEE ALSO: Shocking Before And After Pictures Of How Climate Change Is Destroying The Earth

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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pretty Soon Your Vanilla Flavoring Will Come From... Sawdust

Source: http://gizmodo.com/pretty-soon-your-vanilla-flavoring-will-come-from-sa-514027777

Pretty Soon Your Vanilla Flavoring Will Come From... Sawdust

It's not uncommon to hear bibliophiles and pedants waxing poetic about the wonderful and incomparable "old book smell," but tiresome as these tirades may be, it turns out they might actually be on to something. Thanks to a recent scientific study, that same, vanilla-tinged aroma wafting off the pages of old tomes is now the most efficient way to flavor our ice cream.

Scientists have long known that lignin, a biopolymer found in wood pulp (think sawdust), produces vanillin when it oxidizes—unfortunately the only previously known process, though cheap, used sodium hydroxide and sodium sulphide, both highly corrosive mixtures. Plus, the non-vanillin byproducts of this method have to be neutralized with strong acids before they can be properly disposed of. In other words, that method sucks and is consequently rarely used.

The way we do synthesize vanillin currently uses the petrochemical guaiacolis, which is less environmentally damaging—but pricey.

But thanks to ionic liquids, which are salts in liquid form, Ahmad Shamsuir and DK Abdullah of the University Putra Malaysia may have finally settled on the best of both worlds. Although most ionic liquids are hugely toxic—a quality generally not ideal for things we stuff in our mouths—by playing around with the cations and anions, the scientists were able to majorly reduce its reactivity and make it safer. By dissolving lignin from a nearby saw mill and bubbling oxygen up through it, they were able to identify the vanillin using infrared analysis and separate it from its (relatively harmless) co-oxidation byproducts.

Easy, environmentally-friendly, and equally importantly, cheap. Vanillin flavoring is ten times more in demand than its natural counterpart, so if we want to keep the artificially flavored vanilla products flowing freely, a process that cuts down on dangerous waste and saves money is huge. So the next time you're enjoying vanilla-anything, just remember, that wonderful vanilla taste is probably all thanks to delicious, delicious sawdust. [MIT Tech Review]

Image: Shutterstock/Virunja

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Monday, June 17, 2013

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Source: http://gizmodo.com/this-is-the-future-14-high-tech-farms-where-veggies-gr-513129450

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

In the 21st century, a significant change is underway in the food industry: farming is moving indoors. The perfect crop field could be inside a windowless building with controlled light, temperature, humidity, air quality and nutrition. It could be in the basement of a Tokyo high-rise, in an old warehouse in Illinois, or even in space. Just look at our collection of awesome indoor farms, where the sun never shines, the rainfall is irrelevant, and the climate is always perfect.

Basil, arugula and microgreens.

A worker checks crops at the FarmedHere indoor vertical farm, in Bedford Park, Illinois, on February 20, 2013. The farm, in an old warehouse, has crops that include basil, arugula and microgreens, sold at grocery stores in Chicago and its suburbs.

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: Heather Aitken/AP


Your endive grows in total darkness.

Red endives at the California Vegetable Specialties indoor farm in Rio Vista, California (April 20, 2006). The growing process is long and fragile, with the endives' roots grown outside first and then moved in, where they are left for up to 11 months to grow into mature endives in total darkness.

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: Jeff Chiu/AP


Under fluorescent lights.

Toshihiro Sakuma checks the condition of plants under fluorescent lights at a greenhouse built inside a Tokyo building on July 1, 2005.

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: Shizuo Kambayashi/AP


Sunless farming.

Fittonia plants are seen as they grow in a special darkened room illuminated by blue and red LEDs at PlantLab, a private research facility, in Den Bosch, central Netherlands, March 28, 2011.

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: Peter Dejong/AP


Medical cannabis growing operation.

This facility can be found in Oakland, California. The electricity bill is over $4,000/month.

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: Rusty Blazenhoff/Laughing Squid


Illegal cannabis growing operation.

This indoor marijuana farm in California was raided by police.

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: Arcata Police Department/AP


Legal cannabis growing operation.

In the Netherlands it was legal to grow hemp for a long time. This is what cultivating the world’s finest indoor marijuana looked like a few years ago.

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: World Of Seeds


Japanese indoor greenhouse.

Flowers grow under fluorescent lights in greehouse named "Pasona O2" in the basement of a highrise office building in Tokyo. The new style of greenhouse, built by the human resources service company Pasona Inc. in 2005 at the center of Tokyo's business district, is a facility to train aspiring farmers with high-tech methods involving hydroponics and light-emitting diodes (LED).

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: Yohei Yamashita

Rice plants at an indoor paddy field in "Pasona O2". Pasona hopes this greenhouse can help promote the pleasure of agriculture to businessmen and businesswomen, and inspire a new generation of farmers.

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: Yohei Yamashita


Tomatoes grown by hydroponics cultivation in "Pasona O2."

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: Katsumi Kasahara/Ap


A staff of "Pasona O2" checks vegetables grown under fluorescent lights.

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: Katsumi Kasahara/Ap


Hydroponics gardening for the masses.

"The Volksgarden brings simple, clean, and amazingly effective hydroponics gardening to the comforts of your own home," says the company Urban Led Growth. This unit allows to grow up to 80 plants at once. Herbs, vegetables, fruits, and grains can be harvested easily and continuously thanks to the rotating cylinder housing.

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: Urban Led Growth


Put an AeroGarden into your kitchen.

This dirt-free indoor garden planter uses aeroponics: vegetables, salad greens, herbs or flowers grow in this pod while being both slightly exposed to air and slightly submerged in the nutrient solution. The AeroGarden has built-in lights and a “Smart Garden” alert button to tell you when your plants need more nutrients or water.

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: timmycorkery


An automated, hydroponic, recirculating vertical farming unit.

This is one of the four indoor, climate controlled, automated, hydroponic, recirculating vertical farming units at Green Farms A&M. Green Farms Agronomics & Mycology is located in Valparaiso, Indiana, and was founded in the fall of 2010.

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: GreenFarms


Chicago urban garden.

The first "Aeroponic Garden at Any Airport in the World." In 2011, the CDA and HMS Host Corporation collaborated to install a garden in the mezzanine level of the O'Hare Rotunda Building. In this garden, plants' roots are suspended in 26 towers that house over 1,100 planting spots. A nutrient solution is regularly cycled through the towers using pumps so that no water evaporates or is wasted, making the process self-sustaining. No fertilizers or chemicals are used.

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: Gkkfea


Astroculture.

A view inside the "Astroculture" plant growth unit, during Space Shuttle mission STS-73, in 1995. Quantum Devices Inc., of Barneveld, Wisconsin, builds the light-emitting diodes used in medical devices and for growing plants, like potatoes, inside the plant growth unit developed for use on the Space Shuttle by the Wisconsin Center for Space Automation and Robotics (WCSAR). The astroculture facility has flown on eight Space Shuttle missions since, including this one in 1995 in which potatoes were grown in space.

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center


Soybean growth aboard ISS.

Expedition Five crewmember and flight engineer Peggy Whitson displays the progress of soybeans growing in the Advanced Astroculture (ADVASC) Experiment aboard the International Space Station (ISS), in 2002. The ADVASC experiment was one of the several new experiments and science facilities delivered to the ISS by Expedition Five aboard the Space Shuttle Orbiter Endeavor STS-111 mission. An agricultural seed company will grow soybeans using the ADVASC hardware, to determine whether soybean plants can produce seeds in a microgravity environment. Secondary objectives include determination of the chemical characteristics of the seed in space and any microgravity impact on the plant growth cycle.

14 High-Tech Farms Where Veggies Grow Indoors

Photo: NASA/Marshall Space Flight Center


Top photo: Yellow peppers under blue and red Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights at PlantLab, a private research facility, in Den Bosch, central Netherlands, March 28, 2011. Photo: Peter Dejong/AP

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