Colorado River flow shrinks from climate crisis, risking ‘severe water shortages’
Oliver Milman, The Guardian February 20, 2020
The flow of the Colorado River is dwindling due to the impacts of global heating, risking “severe water shortages” for the millions of people who rely upon one of America’s most storied waterways, researchers have found.
Increasing periods of drought and rising temperatures have been shrinking the flow of the Colorado in recent years and scientists have now developed a model to better understand how the climate crisis is fundamentally changing the 1,450-mile waterway.
The loss of snow in the Colorado River basin due to human-induced global heating has resulted in the river absorbing more of sun’s energy, thereby increasing the amount of water lost in evaporation, the US Geological Survey scientists found.
This is because snow and ice reflect sunlight back away from the Earth’s surface, a phenomenon known as the albedo effect. The loss of albedo as snow and ice melt away is reducing the flow of the Colorado by 9.5% for each 1C of warming, according to the research published in Science.
The world has heated up by about 1C since the pre-industrial era and is on course for an increase of more than 3C by the end of the century unless planet-warming emissions are drastically cut. For the Colorado this scenario means an “increasing risk of severe water shortages”, the study states, with any increase in rainfall not likely to offset the loss in reflective snow.
The magnitude of the Colorado’s decline as outlined in the Science paper is “eye popping”, according to Brad Udall, a senior scientist at Colorado State University and an expert on water supplies in the west who was not involved in the research.
“This has important implications for water users and managers alike,” Udall said. “More broadly, these results tell us that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as we possible can.
“We’ve wasted nearly 30 years bickering over the science. The science is crystal clear – we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately.”
The Colorado rises in the Rocky Mountains and slices through ranch lands and canyons, including the Grand Canyon, as it winds through the American west. It previously emptied into the Gulf of California in Mexico but now ends several miles shy of this due to the amount of water extraction for US agriculture and cities ranging from Denver to Tijuana.
The river’s upper basin supplies water to about 40 million people and supports 16m jobs. It feeds the two largest water reserves in the US, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, with the latter supplying Las Vegas with almost all of its water.
Snowpacks that last into late spring have historically fed streams that have nourished the Colorado River, as well as reducing the likelihood of major fires. As the climate heats up, the river is evaporating away and the risk of damaging wildfires is increasing.
The climate crisis is compounding existing threats to the river, which include intensive water pumping for agriculture, water use by urban areas and the threat of pollution from uranium mining. Lake Mead, the vast reservoir formed by the Hoover dam, has dropped to levels not seen since the 1960s.
A 19-year drought that racked stretches of the river almost provoked the US government to impose mandatory cuts in water use from the river last year, only for seven western states to agree to voluntary reductions. The problems are set to become more severe, however, as the climate becomes hotter and drier at a time when demand for water from expanding cities in the American west increases.
Thousands Of People Are Growing ‘Climate Victory Gardens’ To Save The Planet
Kyla Mandel February 6, 2020
Right across from Atholton High School in Columbia, Maryland, sits a garden roughly a third of an acre with rows of vegetable beds and a newly added pond to encourage wildlife. The garden, located along the road so it’s the first thing people see when they drive past, is being managed mostly by students who planted their first perennial seeds to support pollinators last fall and are now eagerly waiting to see what springs up.
It is part of a 6.4-acre plot of farmland bought last June by the Community Ecology Institute, a nonprofit that seeks to reunite people with nature, from a retiring organic farmer who had managed it since the 1980’s and didn’t want it to be lost to development. Fifty years ago, the entire area was agricultural land. Today, this plot is the only farm left. And one of the first things the Community Ecology Institute did when it took over the farm was to plant this “climate victory garden.”
The nonprofit is one of over 2,000 organizations and individuals across the country growing food in climate victory gardens ― be it on a balcony or in a backyard, a community garden or larger urban farm project ― in a bid to mitigate the climate crisis.
Climate change is “a tremendous crisis, but it’s also a really amazing opportunity to shift the way that we’ve been doing things that no longer work,” said Chiara D’Amore, the Community Ecology Institute’s executive director. “We want to use the entire farm as a way to teach about climate action … and we see land-based climate action as one of the more tangible, gratifying ways to help people feel like there’s some hope, feel like there’s something they can do.”
The climate victory garden movement was launched by nonprofit Green America two years ago. It is inspired by the estimated 20 million victory gardens planted across the U.S. by the end of World War II, responsible for producing 40% of all vegetables consumed in the country at the time. The environmental nonprofit is calling on people to use whatever outdoor space they have to grow fruits and vegetables, using “regenerative” methods to help tackle agriculture’s carbon footprint.
About a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from food production ― that includes emissions related to storing, transporting and selling food. However, the main climate contribution comes from growing crops and livestock and the effect of deforestation to create more cropland. In the U.S., the agriculture sector accounts for roughly 9% of the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Industrial agriculture can also contribute to water pollution from fertilizer runoff and a loss in biodiversity.
Individual gardening efforts alone aren’t enough to address these issues, but it’s a start. “Certainly the victory garden didn’t solve the problem, it didn’t win the war, but it was something people could be called on to do to feel like they were a part of the solution and doing something that was a benefit,” reflected D’Amore, who said the same goes for the climate crisis today.
Many of the goals of the victory garden in the 20th century are echoed in the modern environmental movement.
Herbert Hoover, head of the U.S. Food Administration during World War I, encouraged Americans to live simply, grow their own food and consume less. The Federal Bureau of Education also launched the U.S. School Garden Army, which enrolled 2.5 million children in 1919. Those school gardens are credited with helping produce food worth $48 million at the time. Thanks to efforts like these, the U.S. successfully avoided having to ration during that war.
During World War II, citizens were once again encouraged to grow everything from potatoes to peach trees, and many women, as part of the Women’s Land Army, stepped in to manage urban victory gardens and rural farms. In 1943, first lady Eleanore Roosevelt planted a victory garden on the front lawn of the White House in an effort to show that anyone could successfully grow food.
Soy was promoted as an alternative protein to meat ― although more because meat was being rationed to feed the military than over environmental concerns. Soybeans were marketed as “wonder” or “miracle” beans that were easier to grow and store than meat. Canning, drying and preserving were also encouraged to help foods last longer.
“For us, the inspiration grew from knowing how many people were involved [in these victory gardens], how many people wanted to make a difference, and how many people really wanted to be involved in this food culture,” said Jillian Semaan, food campaigns director for Green America. “Knowing those numbers and what victory gardens did at that time, we felt we had a great opportunity.”
The difference now, though, is that Green America hopes to harness this same spirit through the potential of what’s known as “regenerative agriculture” ― a way of farming that’s dedicated to enriching the soil while also producing healthful food, with the added benefit of storing carbon in the ground. As the government’s 2018 National Climate Assessment, along with many other scientists, acknowledges, “agriculture is one of the few sectors with the potential for significant increases in carbon sequestration to offset [greenhouse gas] emissions.”
The challenge, however, will be to scale it up. There’s a long way to go before reaching wartime levels, but Green America hopes to more than double the number of climate victory gardens this year to 5,000.
The term “regenerative agriculture” was coined in the 1980’s by Robert Rodale, son of the man who applied the term “organic” to food. The most important idea behind regenerative farming (or “carbon farming”) is soil health. This means relying far less on fertilizers and chemicals and focusing more on methods like planting cover crops, applying compost to build up nutrients in the soil and make it more fertile, and not tilling.
Tilling ― breaking up the soil’s surface ― is used to fight weeds and prepare soil for growing. But it reduces the soil’s structural integrity, meaning it won’t hold as much water and will erode more easily ― two qualities of increasing importance as climate change brings extreme weather, such as the devastating floods the Midwest experienced last year.
Tilling also releases carbon that has been locked into the earth throughout the plant’s life cycle. The more carbon-rich the soil becomes, the better plants grow.
Prioritizing soil health is what differentiates climate victory gardens from organic or wildlife gardens, D’Amore said. “Starting from that literally ground-up perspective, we need to make sure that the soil is really healthy to be mindful of what we’re growing,” she said, describing roots as a “whole underground infrastructure” that helps sequester carbon. In practice, this means finding some edible perennial plants with deep roots, such as currant bushes, which her farm will be growing along with other berries.
Meanwhile, cover crops ― like clover, turnips, barley and spinach ― help keep the soil in place and act as a protective blanket in winter.
“If a farmer is practicing regenerative agriculture on his or her land, the soil is getting improved over time. It’s going to get healthier,” said Jeff Tkach, chief impact officer at the Rodale Institute, an educational nonprofit that researches and promotes regenerative organic farming. “If the soil is improving, well, then the food that the farmer is producing is going to become more nutrient-dense over time. And if those consuming that food are eating more nutrient-dense food, then they’re going to get healthier over time … and the community’s going to thrive.”
A healthy community is at the heart of BLISS Meadows, a climate victory garden that launched last March in Baltimore. The urban farm is run by Backyard Basecamp, an organization that seeks to connect communities of color with nature.
Its founder and executive director, Atiya Wells, is a pediatric nurse by trade, and her approach is to promote the health benefits of having a local green space and of growing your own food. The community garden is in the process of renovating a vacant home next door to the farm and plans to transform it into a community kitchen that will host cooking classes and tastings, Wells said, “to show people we can eat healthier and it can be delicious.”
But it’s also about community resilience. “When we all think about climate change and what’s going to happen, we know that people who have means can just pick up and go, and the rest of us are going to be here,” Wells said. The BLISS Meadows garden is in a predominantly black and brown neighborhood.
“So this is kind of us really starting things so that when that time comes, we already have a self-sustaining neighborhood where we’re growing food for our neighbors,” she explained, “[and] we’re able to continue to survive.”
Many who support the regenerative agriculture movement see it as a clear, easy climate win with enormous potential. Some, including Green America, go so far as to claim we can “reverse” climate change by simply changing how we farm.
According to a 40-year trial conducted by the Rodale Institute of growing conventional and regenerative crops side-by-side, adopting regenerative methods brought 40% higher crop yields during drought times, used 45% less energy and produced 40% fewer emissions compared to conventional farming.
However, as David Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington and author of two books on dirt and soil, told Civil Eats last October, regenerative agriculture should be seen as a “good down-payment on reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide” as opposed to a panacea. Claims that it can reverse climate change, he said, are a stretch.
The hope is that climate victory gardens will nudge us toward climate action. But how can something as seemingly small as one person growing tomatoes in their backyard help tackle a problem as immense as agriculture’s effect on climate?
“Everything starts with incremental change,” Semaan said. It begins with reconnecting people to their food and how it got to their plates.
Working with high school students in the Maryland area, the Community Ecology Institute plans to help set up a youth-led program to encourage others to start climate victory gardens throughout the community. “I think our youth get it in a way that many of our leaders and older generations, in general, don’t,” D’Amore said. “They see climate change as the crisis it is. It’s going to impact all our lives, and they want to feel like they can do something that matters.”
Every item grown at home also means one less thing purchased from the store, cutting down on transportation. Even if it’s just a patch of chives, Semaan said, each gardener knows the resources, from water to gas money, that are saved with those plants. “It’s all incremental change,” she said, “and the more people who do it, even if it’s just herbs on a windowsill, the better the planet is for it.”
Tkach agreed. He views the climate victory gardens as a way to “shift people’s consciousness by getting people to just take some kind of action in their own backyards.”
By growing your own food, you have a better understanding of what goes into it, he echoed. “I think as consumers become more attuned to that, it’s going to influence their own decisions,” so people might pay closer attention to food labels that tell you how and where something was grown. “When they go to the grocery store, they’re going to be more adept at [knowing] what to look for.”
Eventually, if enough people are doing this, they can help shift society toward a tipping point, where consumer demand for regenerative farming disrupts the conventional system, Tkach explained.
“I feel like it’s our moment in history. If we could just continue to change the way people eat, it changes everything.”
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The spotted lanternfly, an invasive pest from Asia that is wreaking havoc on valuable trees and vines, is costing the Pennsylvania economy about $50 million and eliminating nearly 500 jobs each year, according to a Penn State study released Thursday.
The study represents researchers’ first attempt to quantify the destruction caused by the large, colorful planthopper. First detected in the U.S. in 2014, in Pennsylvania’s Berks County, it has since overrun the state’s southeastern corner and spread into nearby states including New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia.
Economists in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences estimated the financial impact on industries most susceptible to spotted lanternfly, including nurseries, vineyards, Christmas tree growers and hardwood producers.
In the state’s hard-hit southeast, spotted lanternfly imposes $29 million in direct costs on growers and forest landowners, according to the study. Secondary costs, including reduced business and household spending, represent another $21 million each year.
If the insect were to expand statewide, it could cause $325 million in damage and wipe out 2,800 jobs, the researchers estimate. The state’s $19 billion forest products industry would be especially vulnerable. Pennsylvania, with its vast unbroken stretches of forest, is the nation’s No. 1 producer of hardwoods.
“The part that we’re really concerned about is what’s going on out in the forest. This thing is feeding on trees and those trees are worth a lot of money,” said Jay Harper, a study co-author and director of Penn State’s Fruit Research and Extension Center.
“This is a call to arms,” he said.
Spotted lanternfly is believed to weaken, though not necessarily kill, trees like maple, oak and black walnut. A greater economic threat than tree mortality is the prospect that states and nations could limit imports from Pennsylvania in an effort to prevent the bugs’ spread, according to Wayne Bender, who leads the Pennsylvania Hardwoods Development Council, part of the state agriculture department.
“The industry is taking it very seriously and has taken proactive … measures to minimize the threat and movement of spotted lanternfly,” he said.
Elsewhere, scientists have been testing chemical and biological methods of lanternfly control. Government contractors are removing tree of heaven — an invasive tree that is the lanternflies’ preferred host — from public property. Pennsylvania has also established a quarantine meant to limit the bugs’ spread.
The Penn State study was funded by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a legislative agency.
The remains of burnt out buildings are seen along Main Street in the New South Wales town of Cobargo on Dec. 31, 2019, after bushfires ravaged the town. Thousands of holidaymakers and locals were forced to flee to beaches in fire-ravaged southeast Australia. SEAN DAVEY / AFP via Getty Images
An out-of-control wildfire in the Australian state of Victoria forced thousands of people to flee towards the coast Tuesday.
Residents of the town of Mallacoota hunkered down in their homes or headed for the relative safety of the beach when a siren sounded around 8 a.m., BBC News reported. Victoria’s state emergency commissioner Andrew Crisp said 4,000 sheltered by the water.
“It’s mayhem out there, it’s armageddon,” evacuee Charles Livingstone told The Guardian Australia. He said he had evacuated to the town’s jetty Monday night with his wife and 18-month-old baby, but moved to the community center to escape the smoke.
The fire that prompted the flight to the coast sparked Sunday in Wingan, according to The Guardian, but CNN reported that there were more than 10 fires burning Monday in the East Gippsland area where Mallacoota is located. Three of those fires have been burning for more than a month, and several new blazes were started Sunday by dry lightning and then spread because of hot, dry, windy weather.
Mallacoota was not evacuated along with the rest of East Gippsland Sunday, and by Monday it was too dangerous for anyone to move, The Guardian explained.
Instead, residents fled to the water’s edge, and the fire followed them around 1:30 p.m.
“It should have been daylight but it was black like midnight and we could hear the fire roaring,” local business owner David Jeffrey told BBC News. “We were all terrified for our lives.”
He said residents planned to jump off a sea wall into the water if the flames came too close.
Luckily, a change in the wind redirected the fire away from the town.
“I understand there was a public cheer down at the jetty when that was announced,” chief fire service officer Steve Warrington told BBC News.
However, residents will now have to deal with fire damage. Warrington told CNN that “a number of houses” were destroyed or damaged. Mallacoota residents estimated on social media that around 20 homes, the school, golf club and bowling club had been burned, according to The Guardian.
“I just don’t know how we’re going to pull through this, really,” Maisy Roberts, who works at the town’s Croajingolong Cafe and thought her home was destroyed, told 3AW’s Nick McCallum. “It’s just absolute devastation.”
Mallacoota is not the only place in Australia feeling the heat from a devastating fire season. Four people are missing in East Gippsland as a whole, 3AW reported. Initial aerial investigations show that 19 structures have been destroyed in Sarsfield and 24 in Buchanan, but authorities think the final tally for the region will be higher.
There are fires burning in every Australian state, CNN reported, though Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) have been the hardest hit. More than 900 homes have been destroyed in NSW alone.
Twelve people have died in the blazes so far, BBC News reported. On Tuesday, bodies believed to belong to a father and son were discovered in Corbargo, NSW.
Three of the dead were firefighters. Two, both fathers to young children, died in NSW a little less than two weeks ago. A third, 28-year-old Samuel McPaul, died Sunday when fire-created winds lifted his truck and flipped it over. He was newly married and expecting a child.
The fires have been linked to the climate crisis.
“Climate change is influencing the frequency and severity of dangerous bushfire conditions in Australia and other regions of the world,” Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said, according to Time.
Despite crisis, Trump threatens to pull federal aid for California
A melted basketball hoop is seen in a clearing after the Loma fire tore along a ridge top on Sept. 27, 2016 near Morgan Hill, Calif. Photo by Noah Berger/AP
Nearly a year ago, Donald Trump published a tweet that appeared to include a policy pronouncement. After complaining about California’s approach to forest management – an issue he only pretends to understand – the president wrote that he’d ordered FEMA to send the Golden State “no more money.”
We later learned that the Republican’s rhetoric had no relationship with reality. There was no such order – to FEMA or any other agency – and as we discussed at the time, the president’s bluster was hollow.
All of this came to mind over the weekend, when Trump’s rhetoric took on a familiar tone.
President Donald Trump offered a vague threat to pull California’s federal aid for combating dangerous wildfires on Sunday, sparking a response from Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom as the pair traded barbs through the day.
“The Governor of California, @GavinNewsom, has done a terrible job of forest management,” Trump tweeted early Sunday. “I told him from the first day we met that he must ‘clean’ his forest floors regardless of what his bosses, the environmentalists, DEMAND of him. Must also do burns and cut fire stoppers. Every year, as the fire’s rage & California burns, it is the same thing-and then he comes to the Federal Government for $$$ help. No more. Get your act together Governor. You don’t see close to the level of burn in other states.”
During a brief Q&A yesterday afternoon, Trump kept the offensive going, telling reporters, in reference to California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), “The governor doesn’t know – he’s like a child. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
I realize projection is a go-to move for the president, but I didn’t really expect him to bring his “no puppet” tactics to wildfire responses.
To the extent that reality has any meaning, Trump’s rhetoric didn’t make any sense. California’s latest wildfires, for example, haven’t burnt down forests. The president’s claims about water distribution were similarly wrong. Even the assertion about the Golden State getting “no more” federal aid is probably not to be taken seriously.
What I find important, however, is the bigger picture: Trump’s hostility toward the nation’s largest state has reached a ridiculous level.
In February, Politico ran a feature on “Trump’s War on California,” and it’s safe to say the problem has intensified in the nine months that followed. The White House has, after all, taken steps to revoke California’s right to set its own emissions standards, which came shortly before the Trump administration threatened to withhold federal highway funds from the state. Trump has also gone after California over homelessness in dubious ways.
The New York Times published this striking tidbit in September:
In recent months, the administration’s broader weakening of nationwide auto-emissions standards has become plagued with delays as staff members struggled to prepare legal, technical or scientific justifications for it. As a result, the White House decided to proceed with just one piece of its plan – the move to strip California of its authority to set tougher standards – while delaying its wider strategy, according to these people. […]
Mr. Trump … according to two people familiar with the matter, wanted to press forward with a policy that would punish California.
I’m just going to repeat that sentence for emphasis: “Trump … wanted to press forward with a policy that would punish California.”
It was 44 years ago this week that the New York Daily Newsran its infamous “Ford to City: Drop Dead” headline. Don’t be surprised if California headlines soon reflect a related sentiment from a different Republican president.
The number of family farms seeking bankruptcy protection grew 24% over the last year, according to an Ameican Farm Bureau Federation analysis of recent court data.
The analysis found family farm bankruptcies are rising fastest in the Northwest.
“We’ve seen low crop prices, low livestock prices for a number of years now,” said chief economist John Newton. “On the back, now, of that we have the trade war where agriculture’s been unfairly retaliated against.”
Newton monitors Chapter 12 bankruptcy filings as one measure of health for the farm economy. Chapter 12 is a kind of bankruptcy protection meant to help family farmers reorganize and keep farming.
Courtesy of the American Farm Bureau Federation
Nationwide, 580 family farms filed for bankruptcy in the 12-month period ending in September 2019. Newton considers that a sign of poor health.
“While it’s nowhere near the historical highs we saw in the ‘80s, it’s an alarming trend that continues to get worse,” he said.
Newton said farmers are also assuming record debt and taking longer to pay it back.
“I’m getting calls from farmers across the country that may not be at Chapter 12 bankruptcy point, but they’re very close to it,” he said.
Thirty-three farms in the Northwest filed for Chapter 12 protection over the time period measured. Most of them were in Idaho and Montana, but the figure includes Oregon apple farmers struck by tariffs in their major export markets.
Richard and Sydney Blaine, for example, filed for Chapter 12 protection just days after President Donald Trump signed a law this summer making it easier to access. The Family Farmer Relief Act increased the amount of debt a farmer can have —$10 million — and still qualify for Chapter 12 protection.
The 33 Northwest bankruptcies represent a 74% increase over the previous year, according to the American Farm Bureau’s analysis. The size of the increase appears large in part because the Northwest previously had fewer bankruptcy filings than some other regions, such as the Midwest.
Still, economist John Newton said each Chapter 12 bankruptcy matters.
“These are family farms,” he said. “And these are family farms that are having to restructure their debt due to tough financial conditions in agriculture.”
Because of the new bankruptcy rules, more farms could seek protection in the months ahead.
When the winners were announced at this year’s Broadcom MASTERS Competition, America’s premiere science and engineering competition for middle school students, the stage looked a little different than previous years — for the first time ever, all of the top prize winners were girls! 14-year-old Alaina Gassler won the top award, the $25,000 Samueli Foundation Prize, while 14-year-olds Rachel Bergey, Sidor Clare, Alexis MacAvoy, and Lauren Ejiaga each took home $10,000 prizes. “With so many challenges in our world, Alaina and her fellow Broadcom MASTERS finalists make me optimistic,” says Maya Ajmera, President and CEO of the Society for Science & the Public, which runs the competition, and Publisher of Science News. “I am proud to lead an organization that is inspiring so many young people, especially girls, to continue to innovate.”
The Broadcom MASTERS — which stands for Math, Applied Science, Technology, and Engineering for Rising Stars — was founded in 2011 and aims to encourage middle school students to see how their personal passions can lead to career pathways in STEM. The competition is open to students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades; science fairs affiliated with the Society for Science & the Public nominate the top 10% of their participants, who then apply for the chance to join the national competition. This year, there was a pool of 2,348 applicants; 30 finalists were chosen, including 18 girls and 12 boys — the first time the finalists have been majority female as well.
In this blog post, we introduce you to these clever and creative Mighty Girls and their incredible projects. Their initiatives include reducing the size of blind spots in cars, creating new methods for protecting trees from an invasive insect species, studying how to build bricks on Mars, inventing a water filter that can remove heavy metals, and researching how increased ultraviolet light from ozone depletion affects plant growth. Their innovation and curiosity is sure to inspire science-loving kids everywhere!
Alaina Gassler: Making Vehicles Safer By Removing Blind Spots
Alaina Gassler’s mother hates driving their Jeep Grand Cherokee: the large A-pillar design around the windshield, which provides protection in a rollover crash, also impedes her view with blind spots. The problem piqued the curiosity of the 14-year-old from West Grove, Pennsylvania: “I started to think about how blind spots are a huge problem in all cars,” she says. Alaina knew that her solution had to be inexpensive, easily accessible, and work in different lighting conditions. She created a mount for a webcam that could be installed on the passenger side A-pillar, and 3D printed a part that allowed a projector to display the image at close range inside the car. Her invention won the $25,000 Samueli Foundation Prize, but she’s not done yet: she’s already got plans to create a new prototype with an LCD screen, which is easier to see in bright light. “There’s so many car accidents and injuries and deaths that could have been prevented,” she says. “Since we can’t take [the pillar] out of cars, I decided to get rid of it without getting rid of it.”
Rachel Bergey: Trapping Invasive Insects to Protect Trees and Agriculture
In Rachel Bergey’s home in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, spotted lanternflies are a huge problem: “thousands of them have invaded my family’s maple trees,” she says. The invasive species, which is originally from Asia, damages trees and threatens over $18 billion worth of agricultural crops in Pennsylvania alone. One trap currently in use is sticky tape, but tape needs frequent replacement, doesn’t always catch the spotted lanternflies, and it can hurt helpful insects and even birds. As an alternative, Rachel came up with a trap made of a tinfoil dome with a tunnel that leads to insect netting: once the spotted lanternflies are inside, they can’t get out. When she tested it, “the tinfoil and netting trap… caught 103 percent more spotted lanternflies and 94 percent less other insects” than tape. Rachel won the $10,000 Lemelson Award for an invention that shows a promising solution to a real-world problem with her trap. She tells other young scientists to remember that most of science is hard work: “You don’t have to be super smart to be a scientist,” she says. “You just have to be observant… Hard work pays off.”
Sidor Clare: Making Bricks on Mars
Like many kids today, Sidor Clare is imagining a future Mars mission but one of her questions was how to build structures when the astronauts arrived. “Astronauts need sturdy building materials,” the Sandy, Utah native points out, “and it takes 9 months and a ton of money to ship materials to Mars.” She and her partner Kassie Holt decided to find a binding agent that would allow people to make bricks with regolith, Martian soil. The girls used Mars Global Simulant MGS-1, a soil mix that imitates the chemical and mechanical properties of regolith, and tried different binders, including polyester resin, polystyrene, and recycled high density polyethylene, or HDPE. The resin brick was the strongest — so strong that they had to use construction equipment to test it: “Our Mars resin brick can withstand more pressure than concrete.” Sidor won the $10,000 Marconi/Samueli Award for Innovation, which recognizes a young inventor with vision and promise. “A lot of people want to go to Mars,” she says, “and I wanted to help further that exploration.”
Lauren Ejiaga: Studying The Effects of Ozone Depletion
“I was always fascinated by nature,” Lauren Ejiaga says, so when she learned about how the thinning of the ozone layer let more ultraviolet rays through the atmosphere, she wondered how that change was affecting plant growth. The aspiring doctor from New Orleans, Louisiana decided to analyze the effects of increased UV radiation on plants, particularly UVB rays. She grew pansies in hollow growing cases that she built from plastic pipes and connectors. Each case had a filter that filtered UVA ray, UVB rays, or neither. She found that plants that got UVA radiation only lost 14% of their chlorophyll, the pigment that allows plants to photosynthesize, compared to her control group, while plants that got UVB radiation only lost 61% of their chlorophyll. “[Ozone depletion] affects us in more ways than what we know,” she concludes. Lauren won the $10,000 STEM Talent Award, sponsored by DoD STEM, which celebrates leadership and technical ability in STEM. She hopes to show other students that you can do science with minimal resources. “[You] don’t really need a bunch of fancy gadgets or whatever to prove that something’s happening,” she says. “They can do it in their home, their backyard. If they want to do a topic, they can go for it.”
Alexis MacAvoy: Designing Low-Cost, Eco-Friendly Water Filters
Alexis MacAvoy’s home in Hillsborough, California is near San Francisco Bay, where efforts to clean up heavy metals in the water have cost millions of dollars — a cost that could have been avoided if people had filtered their wastewater. But even today, she says, “80% of the industrial wastewater isn’t filtered whatsoever.” Activated carbon filters can effectively remove these heavy metals, and Alexis wondered if it was possible to make these filters using biowaste like coconut shells or sawdust. After testing several materials, she created filters using sawdust and walnut shells, ground to a specific mesh size and treated with sodium bicarbonate and fluoride; these filters absorbed up to 30 times more copper than a commercial filter! Alexis won the $10,000 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Advancement for her work to make it easier to keep our water clean. She hopes her win will raise public awareness of the multiple benefits of water filtration: “preserving ecosystems so that no further damage is conducted can actually benefit our health as well.”
Wild Goat in hot water for posting a photo on Twitter of himself after killing an American trophy hunter on a remote Scottish Island.
When reached for comment, the goat explained: ‘Human population growth is causing alarming levels of planetary destruction. These kind of culls are necessary for population control and environmental harm reduction’. 😂