The EPA plans to sunset its online archive

Read the full story at The Verge.

Come July, the EPA plans to retire the archive containing old news releases, policy changes, regulatory actions, and more. Those are important public resources, advocates say, but federal guidelines for maintaining public records still fall short when it comes to protecting digital assets.

‘I don’t know how we’ll survive’: the farmers facing ruin in Maine’s ‘forever chemicals’ crisis

Read the full story in The Guardian.

Public health advocates say Songbird is just the tip of the iceberg as Maine faces a brewing crisis stemming from the use of biosolids as fertilizer. The state has begun investigating more than 700 properties for PFAS contamination. Few results are in yet but several farmers’ independent testing revealed high PFAS levels, and statewide contamination has disrupted about 10 farms.

Farmers who spoke with the Guardian say other growers have admitted to hiding PFAS contamination because they fear economic ruin.

Maine is hardly alone. It is finding more contamination because it’s doing more testing, experts say. All sludge contains some level of PFAS, and farms across the country have increasingly used the substance as fertilizer in recent decades. Michigan, one of the only other states to monitor biosolids and to test agricultural products, recently discovered PFAS-contaminated beef.

Solar Energy Technologies Office Photovoltaics End-of-Life Action Plan

Download the document.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) aims to reduce the environmental impacts of solar energy. This plan outlines research activities that can enable safe and environmentally sound handling of PV EOL materials. Actions taken now will improve the likelihood that supporting technologies will be developed to handle PV EOL volumes safely, responsibly, and economically, allowing for greater deployment and safe and socially responsible supply chains.

SETO plans to address PV EOL issues through stakeholder outreach activities, data gathering, research, and analysis. SETO aims to better understand the state of EOL through the development of a database that tracks the materials, quantity, age, location, cause of EOL, and EOL handling for modules. In addition, it will support hardware research to reduce the environmental impacts of EOL and reduce the cost of module recycling by more than half by 2030.

Eye in the sky helps scientists “see” underground

Airborne spectroscopic image of the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in East Bethel, Minnesota. The site hosts the BioDIV prairie diversity experiment, the grid of small squares seen at the center of the image. This mosaic of spectroscopic images was taken from multiple flightlines, and the color is generated using only three wavelengths of the hundreds of possible reflected wavelengths detected by the sensor onboard the aircraft. Credit: John Gamon and Hamed Gholizadeh.

Source: University of Minnesota

The world underground is a busy place, with everything from fat nightcrawlers to microscopic fungi forming a community of workers that break down plant material to free nutrients — processes that are vital to sustaining life on Earth. Given humanity’s hefty footprint, it’s important to identify where these processes are working well, and where they may need help. But how can we do that across vast landscapes?

new study published in Ecological Monographs and led by University of Minnesota ecologists suggests the answer could come from above. Researchers from around the U.S., Canada, and Switzerland using remote sensing to study plant communities report that plant traits we can sense from satellites and airplanes can provide valuable insights into what’s going on beneath the soil.

“The ability to use remote sensing to predict soil processes across large spatial extents has really important implications for understanding and modeling Earth’s biogeochemical cycles, including how nitrogen moves through ecosystems and how carbon accumulates and is stored belowground,” says lead author Jeannine Cavender-Bares, Distinguished McKnight University professor of ecology, evolution and behavior in the College of Biological Sciences and director of the NSF ASCEND Biology Integration Institute.

Illustration of with planes and satellites scanning plants on Earth, with a view of the connections between plants underground..
Concept of remote sensing of plants, their diversity and underground networks. Credit: Daniel Tchanz.

Researchers relied on innovative technology that makes it possible to use differences in light absorption and reflection to identify from a distance not only what kinds of plants grow where, but also their chemical composition. They used the technology to characterize the types and chemical characteristics of plants in two grasslands—a vegetation-rich site in Nebraska and a less-vegetated site at the University’s Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in Minnesota. They then literally dug into the matter, excavating soils beneath the remotely sensed sites and measuring soil health traits such as microbial diversity, enzyme activity, and nitrogen and carbon concentrations. 

The good news: The researchers found that what’s happening beneath the surface is indeed clearly correlated with above-ground plant traits. The complicating news: The above-ground traits that best predicted the below-ground traits were different for the two sites. For the vegetation-poor site, the amount of vegetation best predicted underground conditions, while for the richer site, the composition of the above-ground vegetation was key.

“We are super excited that it appears possible to infer what’s happening in the soil from what we see from the sky,” says co-author Sarah Hobbie, also a professor of ecology, evolution and behavior in the College of Biological Sciences and director of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Area Long Term Ecological Research Program. “The fact that this varies with the diversity and productivity of the vegetation means we’ll need to focus our attention now on fine-tuning our understanding of the relationship so we ultimately can assess the health of below-ground ecosystems on a large scale.”

These new insights and continued work to further develop remote sensing capabilities will only deepen understanding of the causes and consequences of changes in biodiversity and inform next generation conservation ideas and policies. “Our goal is to use this literal and figurative perspective to help manage and restore ecosystems to sustain our planet in this era of rapid global change,” said Cavender-Bares.

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Sense of belonging helps high school students engage with STEM

Read the full story from North Carolina State University.

A new study from North Carolina State University finds that one key to promoting STEM education, and to making students feel capable of working on STEM subjects outside of the classroom, is to find ways to make classrooms feel more inclusive.

Researchers create tool to help protect native fish from hybridizing with non-natives

Bull trout (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)
Bull trout (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)

Source: Oregon State University

Oregon State University researchers have created a tool to assess the risk of hybridization among native and non-native fish, a development that could aid natural resource managers trying to protect threatened or endangered freshwater fish species.

The introduction of non-native species poses challenges to native species, including competition for resources and habitat, exposure to diseases carried by the introduced species and the risk of hybridization, which occurs naturally in wild populations as part of the evolutionary process.

The Oregon State research, just published in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science, focused on two species: bull trout, a fish native to western North America that is protected under the Endangered Species Act; and brook trout, a native to eastern North America introduced in the West more than 100 years ago for recreational fishing purposes.

Bull trout were once abundant in Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Idaho and Montana but today are found in less than half of their historic range, and no longer exist in California. They are threatened by habitat degradation and fragmentation, blockage of migratory corridors, poor water quality, the effects of climate change and fisheries management practices, including the introduction of brook trout.

While some studies have documented hybridization among bull and brook trout, there has not been enough research to allow natural resource managers to quantify hybridization risk, the Oregon State researchers said.

“The goal was to come up with a tool that allows managers to look at the potential long-term impacts when they are planning restoration or conservation projects,” said Michael Manning, the lead author of the paper who worked on the research as an Oregon State graduate student.

The researchers developed a hybridization risk model, which could also be applied to other species that hybridize in freshwaters, such as cutthroat or rainbow trout and coho and chinook salmon.

Guillermo Giannico, a freshwater fish ecologist and a co-author of the paper, compared the model to programs people use when deciding where to live.

“In that case, there is this algorithm that combines information about distance to the nearest supermarket, cost of living, where the schools are,” he said. “This risk model we created is roughly the same. It tells you whether this is a good neighborhood for fish based on the gradient of the stream, the substrate at the bottom of the stream, the temperature of the water, how much the water discharge changes through the year.”

In Oregon, 55% of bull trout habitat is in the northeastern part of the state within the John Day and Powder/Burnt River basins. Additional bull trout habitats are located in the Malheur/Owyhee, Klamath, Deschutes, Willamette Valley and Columbia River drainage basins.

The researchers studied 47 sub-basins, a U.S. Geological Survey term for a subsection of a river drainage area. Sub-basins encompass an average area of about 1,125 square miles. Of the sub-basins they studied, 11 had only bull trout, 16 had only brook trout and 20 had both species.

In Oregon, brook trout are present in 9.8% (120 miles) of bull trout spawning habitat. The model showed that an additional 57 miles of bull trout spawning habitat would be at extreme hybridization risk if brook trout were introduced in those areas.

The model also identified 13% (177 miles) of all bull trout spawning habitat as being in the moderate to extreme hybridization risk category. Of these 177 miles, 90% are in northeastern Oregon.

The researchers note that the model is valuable because of its ability to identify hybridization risks in small sections of streams (to the 100-meter scale) whether brook trout already exist in bull trout spawning habitat or are absent.

This level of detail allows natural resource managers to identify individual reaches of streams that might be candidates for brook trout removal, to model potential hybridization risk if bull trout are reintroduced, or to incorporate scenarios of brook trout introductions or expansion, they said.

Other co-authors of the paper are Ivan Arismendi and J. Andres Olivos, both of the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Science in Oregon State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Solar panels face recycling challenge

Read the full story at ACS Central Science.

Solar power is booming. Global photovoltaic capacity grew from 1.4 GW in 2000 to 760 GW in 2020, and solar power now generates almost 4% of the world’s electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. But experts say this astonishing growth in low-carbon power is also a ticking time bomb.

Atlanta airport tackles emissions by increasing energy efficiency in buildings, operations

Read the full story at Environment & Energy Leader.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport will cut its Scope 1 and 2 emissions by increasing energy efficiency through transitioning to all-electric building systems, adding energy retrofits and using proactive maintenance as part of its 2035 sustainable management plan.

The rise of citational justice: how scholars are making references fairer

Read the full story in Nature.

Citations are not just a way to acknowledge a person’s contributions to research. Because funders and universities commonly consider citation metrics when making decisions about grants, hiring and promotions, citations can have a significant impact on a scholar’s career, says Cassidy Sugimoto, an information scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. “Citations, in many ways, are the currency of the academic market.”

Yet studies in bibliometrics have revealed persistent biases in citation patterns — women and people of colour, for instance, garner citations at lower rates than men do. An increasing number of researchers are calling on academics to acknowledge the inequities in citational practices — and, by paying more heed to work from groups that are typically under-cited, take action to reduce them. Some are referring to this idea as ‘citational ethics’ or ‘citational justice’. Initiatives include computer code that helps academics to estimate the balances of gender and race in their papers’ reference lists, a push for ‘citation diversity statements’ in research papers, and websites dedicated to highlighting papers from under-recognized groups. Journals, too, have started to take action, with some introducing guidance and tools for authors to highlight and address citational inequities in their own papers.

These ideas have critics, but many say that such a reckoning is long overdue — both for scholars whose works have been under-recognized, and for the broader benefits to academia.

IHG Hotels & Resorts Green Engage Program

Read the case study from U.S DOE’s Better Buildings Program.

IHG Hotels & Resorts provides all its hotels with access to the IHG Green Engage system, a comprehensive online sustainability platform that allows hotels to track, measure, and report on their carbon footprint and utility consumption. The system also offers more than 200 “Green Solutions” to help hotels drive resource efficiency and reduce their environmental footprints, as well as detailed technical guidance that hotels can use to implement these solutions.

Piloted in 2009, the program’s initial successes and support from the independent IHG Owners Association led to the adoption of IHG Green Engage as a foundational standard for all IHG-branded hotels globally in 2015.