A ‘Nerve Center’ for Climate in the Biden White House

Read the full story in the New York Times.

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. brings with him the largest team of climate change experts ever assembled in the White House, and action on global warming is expected quickly.

The Bee Whisperers of Slovenia Have a Plan to Save Colonies From Climate Change

Read the full story in Time.

In Slovenia, beekeeping is a way of life. In this small European nation of 2 million, 1 out of every 200 people is a beekeeper. That is four times as many as in the European Union as a whole. Honey features in many Slovenian dishes and many Slovenes use “apitherapy” (honey bee products) to treat illnesses and chronic injuries. Not even the coronavirus, which has infected over 1,400 people and killed at least 96, slowed down the country’s dedication to keeping bees. During the lockdown, the government deemed bee keepers essential workers, permitting them to travel freely to tend to their hives.

This grocery delivery service doesn’t deliver you any plastic

Read the full story at Fast Company.

Zero Grocery acts like an old-fashioned milk delivery—with all your groceries coming in reusable containers that you return.

Will Rising Temperatures Make Superweeds Even Stronger?

Read the full story at Undark.

Widely used herbicides are struggling to kill some weeds. Some experts think heat could be part of the problem.

What We’ve Lost: The Species Declared Extinct in 2020

Read the full story in the Revelator.

Dozens of frogs, fish, orchids and other species — many unseen for decades — may no longer exist due to humanity’s destructive effects on the planet.

Fast Fashion Giant Moves Away from Plastic Packaging

Read the full story at Triple Pundit.

The surge in online shopping over the past six months has meant a flood of boxes and bags landing at homes and businesses, bringing with them waves of plastic packaging, most of which ended up in the trash.

To help reduce that plastic tide, international retailer H&M said it replaced the plastic packaging on the outside of delivery parcels with paper shortly before the end-of-the-year shopping crush. The paper packaging was released with the H&M brand in select markets, and also will be used at for women’s ready-to-wear and other products sold under its & Other Stories brand during the early part of this year.

US rivers are changing from blue to yellow and green, satellite images show

Read the full story at LiveScience.

A third of U.S. rivers have significantly changed color over the last 36 years, turning from blue to  yellow and green, striking new images reveal.

Researchers analyzed 235,000 satellite images — taken over a 34-year period between 1984 and 2018 — from NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Landsat program. The changing hues can be viewed in an interactive map.

More than half of those satellite images showed rivers with a dominant hue of yellow,  while more than a third of images were mostly green. Just 8% of river pics were mostly blue. 

Federal Research: Agencies Need to Enhance Policies to Address Foreign Influence

Download the document.

What GAO Found

U.S. research may be subject to undue foreign influence in cases where a researcher has a foreign conflict of interest (COI). Federal grant-making agencies can address this threat by implementing COI policies and requiring the disclosure of information that may indicate potential conflicts. GAO reviewed five agencies—which together accounted for almost 90 percent of all federal research and development expenditures at universities in fiscal year 2018—and found that three have agency-wide COI policies, while two do not (see figure). The three agencies with existing policies focus on financial interests but do not specifically address or define non-financial interests, such as multiple professional appointments. In the absence of agency-wide COI policies and definitions on non-financial interests, researchers may not fully understand what they need to report on their grant proposals, leaving agencies with incomplete information to assess the risk of foreign influence. GAO found that, regardless of whether an agency has a conflict of interest policy, all five agencies require researchers to disclose information—such as foreign support for their research—as part of the grant proposal that could be used to determine if certain conflicts exist.

Elements of Conflict of Interest (COI) Policies at Agencies with the Most Federal Research Expenditures at Universities

Based on a review of university documents, GAO found that all 11 of the universities in its sample have publicly available financial and non-financial COI policies for federally funded research. These policies often align with the financial COI policies or requirements of the grant-making agencies.

All five agencies have mechanisms to monitor and enforce their policies and disclosure requirements when there is an alleged failure to disclose required information. All agencies rely on universities to monitor financial COI, and most agencies collect non-financial information such as foreign collaborations, that can help determine if conflicts exist. Agencies have also taken actions in cases where they identified researchers who failed to disclose financial or non-financial information. However, three agencies lack written procedures for handling allegations of failure to disclose required information. Written procedures for addressing alleged failure to disclose required information help agencies manage these allegations and consistently apply enforcement actions.

In interviews, stakeholders identified opportunities to improve responses to foreign threats to research, such as harmonizing grant application requirements. Agencies have begun to address such issues.

Why GAO Did This Study

The federal government reportedly expended about $42 billion on science and engineering research at universities in fiscal year 2018. Safeguarding the U.S. research enterprise from threats of foreign influence is of critical importance. Recent reports by GAO and others have noted challenges faced by the research community to combat undue foreign influence, while maintaining an open research environment that fosters collaboration, transparency, and the free exchange of ideas.

GAO was asked to review federal agency and university COI policies and disclosure requirements. In this report, GAO examines (1) COI policies and disclosure requirements at selected agencies and universities that address potential foreign threats, (2) mechanisms to monitor and enforce policies and requirements, and (3) the views of selected stakeholders on how to better address foreign threats to federally funded research. GAO reviewed laws, regulations, federal guidance, and agency and university COI policies and requirements. GAO also interviewed agency officials, university officials, and researchers.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making nine recommendations to six agencies, including that grant-making agencies address non-financial conflicts of interest in their COI policies and develop written procedures for addressing cases of failure to disclose required information. Five agencies agreed with GAO’s recommendations. The National Science Foundation neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO’s recommendation, but identified actions it plans to take in response.

Rural-urban collaboration yields alternative solutions to improve state water quality

The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago has published a story about their water quality projects in Fulton County. ISTC researcher Wei Zheng is one of the researchers involved in this collaborative effort.

From the article:

In addition to deploying new nutrient recovery technology, the MWRD voluntarily established a program at its Fulton County site to foster collaboration with the agricultural sector to develop and expedite nutrient reduction practices in non-point source areas.

The 13,500-acre property, located in Fulton County between Canton and Cuba, Illinois, was originally purchased in 1970 to restore strip-mined land and approximately 4,000 acres were converted to productive farmland. Years later it became the ideal site to use some of the farm fields to develop and test best management practices to reduce non-point source nutrients.

Since 2015, research and demonstration projects have been established at the site in collaboration with many partners such as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Crop Science Department, UIUC Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, Illinois Central College, Ecosystem Exchange, IFB, and Fulton County Farm Bureau. The projects established include inter-seeded cover cropping, riparian grass buffer, denitrifying bioreactors, runoff irrigation, subirrigation, drainage water managements, designer biochar, and watershed-scale nutrient reduction demonstration.

Read more about Dr. Zheng’s research on the ISTC website.

This post originally appeared on the ISTC Blog. Read the original post.

Rethinking travel in a post-pandemic world

Read the full story in Nature.

Climate scientists recommend ways to boost the value of virtual conferences and reduce carbon footprints even when travel curbs ease.