5 Gyres Institute Sets Sail For Microbead Research From Bermuda to Iceland
The 5 Gyres Institute helped expose the presence of microbeads in some of the cosmetic products we use every day, influence change amongst corporations and legislators. Now, the group wants to see how much plastic is on our ocean floors.
A group from the Institute set sail this week for the North Atlantic Subtropical gyre and the Sub Polar “Viking Gyre,” from Bermuda to Iceland, to study plastic pollution. Dr. Marcus Eriksen, 5 Gyres co-founder and research director, is the expedition leader and principle investigator, joined by 13 professional sailors, scientists, advocates, artists, filmmakers, photographers and journalists.
“5 Gyres is on the frontier of oceanic plastic pollution, conducting first-hand research to discover garbage patches around the world," Eriksen said in a statement. "We’re working to both understand and communicate more about how plastics affect the ocean ecosystem, which brings us to monitor remote seas, like the area south of Iceland. These waters are where microplastics, including the microbeads we found in the Great Lakes, likely find their final resting place. We’re going there to find out.”
The tiny beads often escape wastewater treatment plants to enter the planet's waters.
“We’ll be studying the water column to look at plastics below the waves, as well looking at the toxins this plastic absorbs, what kind of fish are eating them, and how this might affect a major food source for humans worldwide,” Eriksen continued.
The Great Lakes expedition led to the "Ban the Bead" campaign and voluntary phase-outs from Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble and other companies. This week, the State of Illinois announced a ban on the manufacturing and sale of products containing microbeads. There's no certainty that the group will inspire that sort of change elsewhere once they return in July, but the explorers know what they are searching for.
“Though voluntary phase-out is a good first step, we realized that we needed to take a legislative approach to ensure that these plastic beads are eliminated from commerce," 5 Gyres Associate Director Stiv Wilson said. "We’d love to see Bermuda merchants voluntarily phase out products that contain these beads, as a model for other island nations.”
The group is also exploring the subsurface distribution of microplastics, how plastics impact foraging fish and testing new collection equipment at sea. The researchers planned to gather information for other scientists.
“Research is costly at sea. When we have the opportunity to do our work, I seek collaborations with the global scientific network, collecting samples for my colleagues who concentrate on related fields of study to plastic pollution," Eriksen said. "With these partnerships, we can further our scientific understanding of plastic pollution while managing the costs associated with data collection in the most remote parts of the world.”
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For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
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