Stopping climate change is doable, but time is short, UN panel warns

Read the full story in the New York Times.

A major new scientific report offers a road map for how countries can limit global warming, but warns that the margin for error is vanishingly small.

Modern study of the ancient practice of mixing rice and fish farming uncovers striking trends

Read the full story at Anthropocene.

After four years peering beneath the surface of rice paddies in China, researchers quantify increases in rice yields and decreases in fertilizer use.

Scientists develop new process for more eco-friendly liquid crystals

Read the full story from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU).

Liquid crystals could soon be produced more efficiently and in a more environmentally friendly way. A new process has been developed by researchers at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in Germany, Bangalore University in India and Cairo University in Egypt. Compared to conventional methods, it is faster, more energy-efficient and promises a high yield as the team reports in the Journal of Molecular Liquids. Liquid crystals are used in most smartphone, tablet and computer displays.

Endangered, new to science orchid discovered in Ecuador with the help of a commercial nursery

Read the full story from Pensoft Publishers.

An astounding new species of rare orchid has been discovered in the cloud rainforest of Northern Ecuador. Known from a restricted area in the province of Carchi, the plant is presumed to be a critically endangered species, as its rare populations already experience the ill-effects of climate change and human activity. The discovery was aided by a local commercial nursery, which was already cultivating these orchids. The study is published in the open-access journal PhytoKeys.

After 30 years of cleanup, Waukegan Harbor will soon be off EPA’s ‘concern’ list

Read the full story in the Daily Herald.

More than $150 million in federal funding have been spent since 1992 to remove harmful chemicals from Waukegan Harbor, and now officials say the harbor finally is poised to be taken off the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes Areas of Concern list.

Digital sound archives can bring extinct birds (briefly) back to life

Colorized version of a 1935 photo of a male ivory-billed woodpecker, now believed to be extinct. Photographed by Arthur A. Allen. Forestry Images/Wikipedia, CC BY

by Hannah Hunter, Queen’s University, Ontario

When people think of extinct animals, they may picture taxidermy, skeletons, 19th-century illustrations or perhaps grainy black-and-white photographs. Until very recently, these were our only ways to encounter lost beings.

However, technological advances are making it possible to encounter extinct species in new ways. With a few clicks, we can listen to their voices.

In September 2021, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recommended removing 23 apparently extinct species from the endangered species list. This group included 11 species of birds, as well as various aquatic creatures, a fruit bat and a Hawaiian plant.

Of the birds listed as likely extinct, six were recorded while they were still present: the Bachman’s warbler, ivory-billed woodpecker and four native Hawaiian and Pacific Island species: the bridled white-eye, Kauaʻi ʻōʻō, large Kauaʻi thrush (kāmaʻo), and poʻouli. Technology capable of recording bird sounds was developed only about a century ago, so these are some of the first now-extinct species whose songs have been preserved.

Drawing of two songbirds with yellow breasts and dark backs and wings.
A 1907 drawing of a male (left) and female (right) Bachman’s warbler by Harvard University zoologist Louis Agassiz. Wikipedia

A not-so-silent spring

These recordings are available on the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library website, a giant multimedia wildlife archive that holds more than 1 million audio recordings. It includes the sounds of 89% of all bird species on Earth as of 2020, along with photos and videos. The site includes modern sound recordings uploaded by hobbyists, professional sound recorders and scientists, as well as digitized historical recordings captured as long ago as 1929.

Scientists use these recordings to study questions such as how bird song evolved and how animals behave. The recordings are also accessible to the public. Macaulay Library director Mike Webster told me that he thinks of the recordings as time capsules: They let us hear what the world used to sound like and preserve our current sounds for the future.

In his view, all of the library’s recordings are precious. But sounds made by lost species are akin to priceless artworks, like a Rembrandt or a Van Gogh – the very definition of irreplaceable.

Listen to a 1954 recording of the now-extinct Bachman’s warbler captured by Arthur A. Allen and Peter P. Kellogg, two of the earliest proponents of animal sound recording and co-founders of the institution that became the Macaulay Library.

Sadly, this new genre of extinct animal sounds is expected to grow. Birds have been hard hit by the current ecological crisis: In Canada and the U.S. alone, threats including habitat loss, toxic pesticides and free-ranging domestic cats have reduced bird populations by nearly 3 billion since 1970.

Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring” inspired a generation of American environmentalists by asserting that if humans continued the destructive behaviors Carson described, such as widespread use of pesticides, the nation could face a spring without birdsong. Sound recordings of extinct birds add a twist to this prediction by letting us hear what’s been lost.

To see the value of these recordings, let’s listen to two species: the ivory-billed woodpecker and the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō.

The Lord God Bird

The ivory-billed woodpecker, or ivorybill for short, is an iconic woodpecker species known as the “Lord God Bird” or “Holy Grail Bird” because of its striking appearance and extreme rarity. It was present in the southeastern U.S., with a subspecies in Cuba, but has dipped in and out of presumed extinction since the 1800s. The main causes of its decline are thought to be rapid large-scale deforestation after the Civil War and widespread culling by museum collectors.

Man on bridge, wearing headphones, holding large dish-shaped microphone.
A birder using a parabolic sound microphone to capture bird songs. George Rose/Getty Images

This species is the most controversial on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service list. Some people believe that ivorybills still exist in southeast U.S. forests. The last universally accepted sighting was in 1944, but many others have since been reported, including some by scientists from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology in the 2000s.

Sound recordings of ivorybills were collected in Louisiana in 1935 by Cornell ornithologists, who set out on a cross-country sound recording expedition to capture sounds and images of “vanishing birds” before they were gone. There have been several other claimed sound recordings of ivorybills over the years, including one in 1968 and some in 2006, but only the 1935 recording series is universally accepted by ornithologists and birders.

Listen to a recording of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Northern)

For those still searching for the ivorybill, the 1935 recording is an important tool, especially since it’s freely available online. People train their ears on the recording before their searches, and some even use it for “playback” – a technique where the recording is played in potential habitats in the hope that surviving ivorybills will respond. Scientists have also compared contemporary sound recordings they think might be ivorybills with the 1935 recording to suggest that the species is not extinct yet.

A haunting, one-sided duet

The Kauaʻi ʻōʻō (pronounced ‘kuh-wai-ee oh-oh’) is a small, dark-colored bird endemic to the Hawaiian island of Kauaʻi and known for its intricate, flutelike “oh-oh” song. It is one of 11 Hawaiian and Pacific Island species on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service list.

Painting of two dark gray birds on tropical tree branch
An 1893 painting of the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō by Dutch illustrator J.G. Keulemans, from ‘The Avifauna of Laysan.’ Smithsonian Institution

Hawaii has been particularly devastated by environmental loss because of European and American colonizers who tore up delicate island habitats to plant sugar cane and other cash crops. Introduced predators, malaria-carrying mosquitoes and Hurricane Iniki in 1992 also contributed to the birds’ demise.

Ornithologist Jim Jacobi made a famous recording in 1986 of an individual male Kauaʻi ʻōʻō singing one-half of a duet – with no response. We have no way of knowing if this was the very last bird, but it’s hard not to listen as if it were.

Listen to a recording of the Kauaʻi ʻōʻō.

A remix of a Kauaʻi ʻōʻō song was uploaded to YouTube by Robert Davis in 2009, with an added echo and what he described as “the shrill sounds of commercial exploitation.” This remix, which juxtaposes the bird’s haunting calls with the cause of their decline, has been viewed over 1.5 million times.

In my Ph.D. research about historical bird sound recordings, people frequently bring up their emotional connection to this species’ song. One scientist told me he finds it difficult to listen to the recording without crying. Another plays it in lectures to bring home the emotional dimensions of bird loss to students.

Yellow and olive-green honeycreeper on a forest branch.
Many Hawaiian native birds are at risk, including the critically endangered kiwikiu (Maui parrotbill), which lives only in small patches of undisturbed wet forests on the island of Maui. Zach Pezzilo/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

The sounds of saving the world

Sound recordings give a voice to animals. They help to demonstrate their unique spirits and personalities. They remind us that these beings are invaluable, and that humans have a duty to preserve them. I hope that listening to the voices of extinct birds will lead people to lament those that are already lost, and strive to keep other species singing.

Hannah Hunter, PhD Candidate in Geography and Planning, Queen’s University, Ontario

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why methane is a large and underestimated threat to climate goals

Read the full story at e360.

Scientists say climate negotiators have misjudged the effects of rising methane emissions and warn the potent greenhouse gas could imperil hopes of meeting mid-century climate targets. The key, they say, is to focus on cutting those emissions and their big short-term impact.

Integrated Science for the Study of Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in the Environment: A Strategic Science Vision for the U.S. Geological Survey

Download the document.

Concerns related to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in sources of drinking water and in natural and engineered environments have captured national attention over the last few decades. This report provides an overview of the science gaps that exist in the fields of study related to PFAS that are relevant to the U.S. Geological Survey mission and identifies opportunities where the U.S. Geological Survey can help address these gaps on the basis of the agency’s capabilities and expertise. The integrated science activities envisioned in this document can be designed to address science needs at local, regional, and national scales and varying timeframes as stakeholders are engaged and their needs evolve. This document is intended as an information resource for U.S. Geological Survey scientists who are prioritizing and planning research related to PFAS and may be useful for developing partnerships and collaborations with other scientists, agencies, and stakeholders.

Webinar: Preserving the Value of Our Ocean by Preventing Plastic Waste

April 19, 2022, 10 am CDT
Register here.

More than 11 million tons of plastic pollution enter the ocean each year, approximately 80% from land-based sources, and 20% from ocean-based sources like fisheries and vessels. Unless addressed, plastic pollution will increasingly harm human and ocean health as well as our economies and livelihoods. We cannot address these challenges in our own silos. What does it take to build global projects through partnerships with investors, businesses and nonprofits? This panel will highlight the challenges and opportunities for the GreenBiz community to engage in the fight against plastic pollution and further the circular economy.

  • How plastic waste harms our ocean and our economy
  • Ongoing projects and partnerships between investors, businesses, and nonprofits addressing this challenge
  • Opportunities for your company to engage


  • Suz Okie, Circular Economy Analyst, GreenBiz Group


  • Keri Browder, Cities Project Director, Ocean Conservancy
  • Ellen Martin, Impact and Insights Director, The Circulate Initiative
  • Leslie Hushka, Senior Vice President, Global Corporate Social Responsibility, The Bumble Bee Seafood Company

These companies say their carbon pipelines would curb climate change. Farmers object

Read the full story from NPR.

Three companies want to build carbon capture pipelines through a large swatch of the Midwest they say will help curb climate change. Carbon capturing involves removing the carbon dioxide emissions from an industrial process and then piping to be stored elsewhere.

The construction of pipelines in the Midwest has been the topic of climate and landowner controversy for more than a decade. Both the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access pipelines made for years of debate over whether the U.S. should still be using crude oil with a warming climate.

These carbon-capture pipelines are much different.