Balloon Releases Are Killing Wildlife and Marine Animals – Here’s What You Can Do Instead

Posted by on July 8, 2018 in Our Environment | 1 comment

Balloon Releases Are Killing Wildlife and Marine Animals – Here’s What You Can Do Instead

For years, balloon releases have been used to celebrate events or honor the memory of someone lost.  Schools release them during football games, they’re sent floating into the air at running events, and released by crowds of people at weddings, funerals, and memorials. And while those who organize and participate in balloon releases have the best of intentions, what they fail to consider is what happens when those balloons eventually land – and when they do the results are detrimental to wildlife and marine animals. The Long-Lasting Impact of Balloons Balloons negatively impact our environment by littering streams, lakes, and beaches. It’s basically the same as intentionally throwing trash on the ground or into the ocean. Even balloons marketed as biodegradable or “eco-friendly” can still take years to disintegrate, meaning they’re not any better for the environment than standard balloons. BalloonsBlow.Org/Facebook When balloons make their way into the water, their tattered ends and floating pieces can resemble jellyfish or other sea life consumed by marine animals such as sea turtles, fish, and dolphins. When the pieces of latex or Mylar are mistaken for food and ingested, they can get lodged in the digestive tract, inhibiting animal’s ability to eat and causing a slow and painful death by starvation. Wildlife can also fall victim to balloons and balloon strings when the pieces fall to the ground or onto trees and bushes. Birds have been found injured with ribbons wrapped around their beaks or wings, and have strangled themselves when they become entangled in strings attached to trees or power lines. And just like marine animals, they can succumb to a painful death after ingesting balloons. The negative impact on animals and the environment prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local chapters of the National Audubon Society to urge people to stop releasing balloons and instead find more humane alternatives that are safer for animals and our planet. Several states and cities in the U.S. and abroad have also passed laws regarding mass balloon releases after years of witnessing their detrimental effects. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Flickr What You Can Do If you know of someone planning a balloon release, please urge them to consider one of these earth- and animal-friendly options instead. There are so many other symbolic acts that don’t involve the use of balloons. We’ve listed a few options for you below, and you can find more by visiting this website that offers not only fun alternatives but educational materials to help you spread awareness about the dangers of balloons and balloon releases. Bubbles Bubbles are not only fun but can create stunning photo ops. Watching hundreds of bubbles float up into the sky can be mesmerizing and just as symbolic as seeing a balloon float away, but without the resulting of litter and endangerment to wildlife and marine animals. Luminaries Luminaries are a beautiful way to honor and memorialize loved ones. Instead of writing messages on balloons and releasing them, you can write messages on recycled paper bags or reusable glass jars with candles placed inside to create a lighted path, or spell out a word or name. Each person can bring their bag or jar home afterward as a personal keepsake to remember the event. Plant a Tree Planting native trees and wildflowers is a beautiful way to create a memory that lasts for years to come – and give a little...

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Spiders fly on the currents of Earth’s electric field

Posted by on July 7, 2018 in Our Environment | 0 comments

Spiders fly on the currents of Earth’s electric field

Science Jul 5, 2018 4:20 PM EDT Spiders don’t have wings, but they can fly across entire oceans on long strands of silk. For more than a century, scientists thought it was the wind that carried them, sometimes as high as a jet stream — in a process known as “ballooning.” A new study shows that the Earth’s electric field can propel these flying spiders too. The study, published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, found that when spiders are in a chamber with no wind, but a small electric field, they are likely to prep for take-off, or even fly. Plus, the sensory hairs covering the spiders’ bodies move when the electric field is turned on — much like your own hair stands up due to static electricity. This “spidey sense” could be how the creatures know it’s time to fly. This makes spiders only the second known arthropod species, after bees, to sense and use electric fields. Because humans don’t feel Earth’s electric field, its role in biology is often overlooked, said Erica Morley, the study’s lead author. When spiders sense an electric field, they stick their spinnerets into the air and release silk. Called “tiptoeing,” this means spiders are ready for take-off. Photo by Michael Hutchinson The origins of Morley’s study date back five years to an unlikely source: an astrophysicist at the University of Hawaii named Peter Gorham. Gorham was reading Charles Darwin’s observations of spiders ballooning en masse aboard a ship at sea. Darwin wondered if the spiders were using electrostatics to take off. Gorham wondered if Darwin was right. So he turned the question into a simple physics problem. “When I worked through the numbers it looked quite compelling,” Gorham said. “This was a plausible explanation for not all of the flight but at least for some of it.” Gorham published his work on arXiv, an open-access platform, hoping someone with more expertise in biology would pick it up. Enter Morley, a sensory biologist at the University of Bristol. When Morley saw his paper, she saw an opportunity. Scientists have long known that air currents can lift spiders high into the air, allowing the eight-legged critters to disperse hundreds of miles to new ecosystems. But most of these “ballooning” events take place on quieter days and can’t explain the loft of larger spiders. But the idea that an electric field can also pull on spider strands had been dismissed 200 years ago. “In the early 1800s, there were arguments that spiders might be using electric fields to balloon, but then there were also people arguing that it was wind,” said Morley. “And the argument for wind won over probably because it’s more obvious.” Since then, scientists discovered a naturally-occuring global electric field — located between the negatively charged surface of the Earth and the positively charged air residing 50 to 600 miles up, known as the ionosphere. But until five years ago, no one had revisited the effect this electric field might have on spiders. A flight simulator for spiders Morley built an “arena” the size of a mini fridge sheltered from air currents and from electric fields to observe spider behavior under controlled conditions. She then created electric fields to mimic those found in nature by installing charged metal plates — electrodes — on the bottom and the top of the...

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History teaches us that careful thought must go into planting trees

Posted by on June 30, 2018 in Our Environment | 0 comments

History teaches us that careful thought must go into planting trees

June 27, 2018 3.55pm SAST Author Brett M Bennett Associate Professor of History, University of Johannesburg Disclosure statement Brett M Bennett received funding from The Australian Research Council Discovery Grant for the project ‘Saving the world the first time: global climate theory and desiccation 1765-1960’( DP110104024). Partners University of Johannesburg provides funding as a partner of The Conversation AFRICA. The Conversation is funded by Barclays Africa and eight universities, including the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Rhodes University, Stellenbosch University and the Universities of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Pretoria, and South Africa. It is hosted by the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Western Cape, the African Population and Health Research Centre and the Nigerian Academy of Science. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a Strategic Partner. more Republish this articleRepublish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence. There should be caution in jumping on the “forests are always better” bandwagon. Shutterstock The idea that forests increase rainfall is an old idea that has inspired scientists and the public for centuries. Over 500 years ago, Christopher Columbus came to believe that the American tropics had heavy, continuous afternoon rain because of its dense vegetation. In the 1860s to 1890s, the idea inspired foresters in arid places, such as South Africa and Australia, to plant trees in the hope of making rain. These efforts failed and, as a result, foresters largely abandoned the idea that trees created rainfall. In fact, it seemed that planted forests actually lowered the water available from rivers and streams; this was a major problem in areas that lacked adequate water before trees were planted. A change in understanding about the impact of trees on rain and water supplies played out 80 years ago in South Africa when farmers became so concerned that planted trees were leading to the loss of water in rivers that they forced the government to investigate the relationship between trees and water. The subsequent research showed unequivocally that tree planting had an adverse impact on water supply in South African catchments. The scientific idea that forests influence rainfall fell into decline during the middle of the twentieth century. But it has regained popularity, particularly during the past two decades. Evidence from various parts of the world now emphasises the link between forests and rainfall. Maps showing where the world’s rainfall originates highlight this. A group of scientists have increasingly begun to describe trees as “pumps”, “generators”, and “makers” of rain. They want policies revisedto account for forests’ water-giving properties. If successful, these ideas have the potential to revise environmental policy, ecosystems and water cycles in far reaching ways. But they also have the potential to cause significant problems if history is not heeded. Research suggests we should be wary of planting trees in places where none exist, or where there are significant water constraints. The fact is that planting trees indiscriminately has in the past had harmful effects. Rethinking earlier theories There is strong evidence to suggest that atmospheric recycling – the transpiration of water from trees into the air as precipitation – plays an important role in rainfall in rainforests as well as deserts. A huge percentage of rainfall – sometimes over 50% in west and central Africa and the Amazon – is recycled from forests. In parts of Western China an amazing 80-90% of rain occurs because...

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Flowers’ secret signal to bees and other amazing nanotechnologies hidden in plants

Posted by on June 30, 2018 in Our Environment | 0 comments

Author Stuart Thompson Senior Lecturer in Plant Biochemistry, University of Westminster Disclosure statement Stuart Thompson has received funding from MAFF and the Nuffield Foundation. He consults to the University of Copenhagen. Partners University of Westminster provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK. The Conversation is funded by Barclays Africa and seven universities, including the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Rhodes University and the Universities of Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Pretoria, and South Africa. It is hosted by the Universities of the Witwatersrand and Western Cape, the African Population and Health Research Centre and the Nigerian Academy of Science. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a Strategic Partner. Republish this articleRepublish our articles for free, online or in print, under Creative Commons licence.   Flowers have a secret signal that’s specially tailored for bees so they know where to collect nectar. And new research has just given us a greater insight into how this signal works. Nanoscale patterns on the petals reflect light in a way that effectively creates a “blue halo” around the flower that helps attract the bees and encourages pollination. This fascinating phenomenon shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to scientists. Plants are actually full of this kind of “nanotechnology”, that enables them to do all kinds of amazing things, from cleaning themselves to generating energy. And, what’s more, by studying these systems we might be able to put them to use in our own technologies. Most flowers appear colourful because they contain light-absorbing pigments that reflect only certain wavelengths of light. But some flowers also use iridescence, a different type of colour produced when light reflects from microscopically spaced structures or surfaces. The shifting rainbow colours you can see on a CD are an example of iridescence. It’s caused by interactions between light waves bouncing off the closely spaced microscopic indentations in its surface, which means some colours become more intense at the expense of others. As your viewing angle shifts, the amplified colours change to give the shimmering, morphing colour effect that you see. Bees can see a blue halo around the purple region. Edwige Moyroud Many flowers use grooves between one and two thousandths of a millimetre apart in the wax coating on their surface to produce iridescence in a similar way. But researchers investigating the way that some flowers use iridescence to attract bees to pollinate have noticed something odd. The spacing and alignment of the grooves weren’t quite as perfect as expected. And they weren’t quite perfect in very similar ways in all of the types of flowers that they looked at. These imperfections meant that instead of giving a rainbow as a CD does, the patterns worked much better for blue and ultra-violet light than other colours, creating what the researchers called a “blue halo”. There was good reason to suspect that this wasn’t a coincidence. The colour perception of bees is shifted towards the blue end of the spectrum compared to ours. The question was whether the flaws in the wax patterns were “designed” to generate the intense blues, violets and ultra-violets that bees see most strongly. Humans can occasionally see these patterns but they are usually invisible to us against red or yellow pigmented backgrounds that look much darker to bees. The researchers tested this by training bees to associate sugar with...

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