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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Douglas Broom
"Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people," said former U.S. president, Franklin Roosevelt.
So the FAO is using Twitter to remind the world of these five hidden benefits of forests.
The number of forest fires in Brazil's Amazon rainforest increased 28% in July in comparison to last year, the country's National Institute for Space Research reported Saturday.
Government Measures Not Enough<p>On July 16, the Brazilian government banned burning in the Pantanal wetlands and the Amazon forest for four months.</p><p>President Bolsonaro also issued an order in May for the military to coordinate environmental actions in the Amazon.</p><p>But experts say the fire numbers indicate the government's response has not been effective. The deforestation index also remained high this year until July, compared to the last couple of years, according to Carlos Nobre, a researcher at the Advanced Studies Institute in the State University of Sao Paulo.</p>
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- Fires Surge in Brazil's Amazon a Month After Bolsonaro Declared Fire Ban - EcoWatch ›
New technology could produce a better, cheaper beer that's also good for the planet.
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By Zulfikar Abbany
"We don't have a definition of life," says Kevin Peter Hand, one early California morning when we speak via video. "We don't actually know what life is."
Alien Oceans Here and There<p>Europa, Enceladus, and Triton are just three of over 200 moons in our solar system. But they are special moons. They seem to have live, liquid water environments below the surface — also known as subsurface oceans — under an icy shell.</p><p>"These are global liquid oceans covered with ice," says Hand. "And if we go to Europa or Enceladus, these worlds where hydrothermal vents could exist, but where no continents exist, and there's no atmosphere, and if we found life, that would almost certainly point to an origin of life in hydrothermal vents."</p><p>And that may then tell us more about life on Earth. </p><p>Hydrothermal vents are found at extreme depths of around 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles) in vast trenches below the surface of Earth's own ocean.</p><p>Not so long ago, those trenches were believed to be too dark for any life to exist. But through oceanographic research and commercial prospectors trawling for rare minerals like manganese nodules, we now know that hydrothermal vents are teeming with microbial life. So, the same may be true on a distant moon.</p><p>"That's not to say we'd be able to cross off the potential for the origin of life in tide pools on ancient Earth, but if we found life in hydrothermal vents on these moons, we would at least have another data point," says Hand.</p>
Biology Beyond Earth<p>Biology — or organic life as we know it — is perhaps the final piece in a jigsaw puzzle for space scientists.</p><p>Thanks to Galileo, says Hand, we know that the laws of physics work beyond Earth. So, too, with the principles of chemistry and geology.</p><p>"But we don't know whether this phenomenon called life has happened a second, independent time from life here on Earth. And that's why the question of a second origin of life is so compelling," says Hand.</p>
The Europa Clipper<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="367f258c4634fbd67ad3ce7ef3a73b5f"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GqTaDCt_F1Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Hand's focus for now is Jupiter's moon, Europa. One of his current projects is the <a href="https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/europa-clipper/" target="_blank">Europa Clipper</a> mission, which will perform about 45 so-called "flybys" of the moon. </p><p>Its launch date has yet to be decided. But the plan is for the Europa Clipper to take hi-resolution images of the moon's surface on a scale of between 50 centimeters per pixel and tens of meters per pixel.</p><p>It will look for organics, like salt.</p><p>It will have an ice penetrating radar onboard, and spectrometers that could "taste" any plumes erupting out of Europa.</p><p>"It will fly through the plumes and capture some of that material so we can analyze it directly. That will be phenomenal, but it won't get us down to the surface," says Hand. So, they are working on another mission that would land on Europa, too.</p>
Trident for Triton<p>Meanwhile, NASA's <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-selects-four-possible-missions-to-study-the-secrets-of-the-solar-system" target="_blank">Discovery Program</a> has two further outer solar system moon missions under consideration. One of those missions is called Trident. And if it's selected to move forward, the mission will investigate Neptune's moon, Triton.</p><p>Trident would launch in 2026 for a 12-year journey to Triton. The last spacecraft to study Triton was Voyager 2, which launched in 1977. It got to within 40,000 km of Triton, whereas Trident would get as close as 500 km on two flybys.</p><p>"Voyager gave us pictures that let us see geysers and plumes on Triton and that was 30 years ago — 50 years before Trident," says Yohai Kaspi, a professor of atmospheric dynamics and planetary science at the Weizmann Institute in Israel. "But with today's technology and imaging, we can do much better."</p><p>Kaspi and his colleagues are contributing a special clock to the project, with which they hope to measure the density and temperature of Triton's atmosphere.</p><p>The clock is called an Ultra-Stable Oscillator (USO).</p><p>It's a basically quartz clock, like a quartz wristwatch, but it's kept it at a very stable temperature to protect it from all the temperature variations in space.</p><p>"You hold it in a little oven, literally a tiny oven, with a stable temperature of one milliKelvin," says Kaspi, "and that gives us an accurate time frequency."</p><p>The spacecraft will have a radio link to Earth for the purpose of Kaspi's experiment and for general use, such as navigation. It will be a constant signal.</p><p>But the speed at which that signal travels back to Earth will change as the spacecraft enters and moves through Triton's atmosphere. The atmosphere is almost a filter through which the signal will have to pass. Measuring and comparing the difference in time it takes the signal to travel to Earth will allow scientists to measure thickness of Triton's atmosphere and build a profile of the moon's atmospheric temperature.</p>
How Do Moon Oceans and Their Atmospheres Interact?<p>Kaspi says Triton's atmosphere makes it unique. "Enceladus is too small to have an atmosphere and Europa barely has an atmosphere," he says. "Triton's atmosphere is not as dense as the one on Earth but it's enough of an atmosphere to transport material around. And in addition to that, it's likely that Triton was not even formed in our solar system. So, it's a real opportunity."</p><p>If the mission goes ahead, it may also be an opportunity to understand more about the interaction between subsurface oceans, or the "interior" of such moons, and their atmospheres. Because atmospheres are just as important for maintaining life and water is for originating life.</p><p>"We see these plumes coming from the interior, and they are then transported by the atmosphere. We see these active geysers and then these streaks on the planet, and they're all in the same direction," Kaspi says. "So, you would assume that there is a wind going from one side to the other. Voyager observed that. But that is about as much as we know."</p><p>What we don't know, says Kaspi, is how much of Triton's atmosphere originated from the interior, or whether the subterranean ocean can communicate or interact much with the outside.</p><p>The instruments on Trident are designed to find out how the whole system works together. They may even get us a little closer to that elusive definition of life itself.</p><p>"I hope that maybe 400 years from now our descendants will be able to point to innovations and discoveries that we made and go, 'Wow, can you believe they argued about the importance of searching for life beyond Earth and its application?'" says NASA's Kevin Hand.</p><p>"And perhaps they will be able to laugh about that in the same way that we look at Galileo and say: 'Of course, Galileo's work was pivotal in changing the way we think about the universe' — and everything that cascades from that, right down to the computer conversation that we're having now."</p><p>Message received.</p>
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By Sean Fleming
You probably can't outrun a forest fire. They can travel at speeds of up to 22 kilometers per hour (up to 14 miles) and are dangerously unpredictable.
The fires currently tearing through parts of northern California include the second and third largest in the state's recorded history, have seen 200,000 people asked to leave their homes and killed at least six people.
Fire boundaries are clearly marked and refreshed hourly. Google
Wildfire timelapse. Google Maps
Early Warnings<p>The data also feeds into the company's maps and navigation tools, meaning anyone in the vicinity of a fire, and using Google Maps, can be alerted to the danger. Satellite data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is fed into Google Earth, and is refreshed hourly. This gives both infrared and standard optical views of the location and spread of fires.</p><p>Forest <a href="https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/GlobalFire/fire_2.php" target="_blank">fires are part of the natural cycle of the woodland ecosystem</a>, actually helping to maintain biodiversity. Not only does fire kickstart the germination process of many seeds, it also "initiates critical natural processes by breaking down organic matter into soil nutrients," Nasa's Earth Observatory explains.</p><p>Climate change is partly responsible for wildfire spread, or is at the very least becoming a contributory factor. Reduced rainfall in northern California has left forests and surrounding areas drier than normal, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. This helps create <a href="https://www.fire.ca.gov/incidents/" target="_blank">the ideal circumstances for fires to get out of control</a>, regardless of how they started.</p><p>Large parts of the U.S. face higher than normal fire risk this year, including California, putting lives and property in jeopardy. The cost of fighting such fires is also on the increase, almost doubling in California across the first two decades of the century.</p>
Counting the cost of California's wildfires. Statista
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By Johnny Wood
What better place to build a Doomsday Vault than the remote, snow-covered islands of Norway's Arctic Svalbard? Sitting around 1,000 kilometers from the North Pole, the facility is buried in permafrost to protect the precious seed samples housed there. But a freak heatwave is causing the region's ice to melt.
Deep Trouble?<p>The <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/here-s-what-it-s-like-inside-the-doomsday-vault-that-stores-every-known-crop-on-the-planet" target="_blank">Svalbard Global Seed Vault</a> – also known as the Doomsday Vault – is a gigantic bunker, sitting deep inside a mountain surrounded by snowy wastelands. The facility stores close to <a href="https://www.seedvault.no/about/the-facility/" target="_blank">900,000 seed samples</a> from around the world and acts as a sort of back-up plan for agriculture, should disaster render parts of the planet unlivable or the world suffer a catastrophe, such as nuclear war or extreme climate change.</p><p>It's been described as an "<a href="https://www.newscientist.com/article/2235116-svalbard-doomsday-vault-gets-first-big-seed-deposit-since-upgrade/" target="_blank">insurance policy for food security</a>."</p><p>Inside the vault, <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/here-s-what-it-s-like-inside-the-doomsday-vault-that-stores-every-known-crop-on-the-planet" target="_blank">temperatures are kept below minus 18℃</a>, cold enough to keep the seed samples safe for at least 200 years, even without backup power. But climate change is causing problems for the vault.</p><p>In 2016, which was the <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2841/2018-fourth-warmest-year-in-continued-warming-trend-according-to-nasa-noaa/" target="_blank">warmest year on record according to NASA</a>, soaring temperatures caused <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/20/doomsday-arctic-seed-vault-breached-permafrost-melts/" target="_blank">meltwater to breach the vault's entrance tunnel</a>. While no seeds were damaged, the <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/svalbard-home-of-the-doomsday-vault-just-recorded-its-highest-ever-temperature" target="_blank">floodwater left an expensive repair bill</a> and tarnished the vault's reputation as impregnable to natural or manmade disasters.<span></span><br></p>
The Heat Is On<p>Warming in the islands has been underway for some time. Figures for 2017 show average temperatures are between 3-5℃ hotter than in 1971, according to the <a href="https://www.miljodirektoratet.no/globalassets/publikasjoner/M1242/M1242.pdf" target="_blank">Climate in Svalbard 2100</a> report, with the largest increases affecting the inner fjords.</p><p><span></span>Between 2071 and 2100, average temperatures throughout the archipelago will increase by between 7-10℃, the report predicts, shortening the snow season and causing loss of near-surface permafrost.</p><p><span></span>What's happening in Svalbard is symptomatic of wider changes impacting the Arctic expanse, which is <a href="https://www.upi.com/Science_News/2018/12/12/NOAA-Arctic-warming-at-twice-the-rate-of-the-rest-of-the-planet/5141544580754/" target="_blank">warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet</a>. Parts of the <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2019GL082187" target="_blank">Canadian Arctic are thawing 70 years earlier than predicted</a>, scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks found, a sign that climate change could be happening faster than first thought.</p><p>As warmer-than-average summers destabilize permafrost, much of which has lain frozen for millennia, methane and other gases trapped in the ice could be released at scale, accelerating climate change. In turn, warmer temperatures would lead to further permafrost loss.<br><br>Melting ice, on land and at sea, <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/11-arctic-species-affected-climate-change" target="_blank">destroys animal habitats for species like polar bears and Arctic foxes</a>, which use their snowy white coats as camouflage either to hunt for food or avoid predators.</p>
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The records of Greenland's ice melt date back to 1948 and nothing in that record compares to what happened in 2019. The amount of ice lost was more than double what it has been any year since 2013. The net ice loss in 2019 clocked in at more than 530 billion metric tons for 2019. To put that in context, that's as if seven Olympic-sized swimming pools were dumped into the ocean every second of the year, according to The Guardian.
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By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope
In this autumn of horrific fires and deadly floods, it's easy to overlook one bit of promising news on the climate front: Some major U.S. media coverage of the crisis is finally getting better.
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The shelter in place orders that brought clean skies to some of the world's most polluted cities and saw greenhouse gas emissions plummet were just a temporary relief that provided an illusory benefit to the long-term consequences of the climate crisis. According to new research, the COVID-19 lockdowns will have a "neglible" impact on global warming, as Newshub in New Zealand reported.
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Three years ago, scientists predicted it would happen. Now, new NASA satellite imagery confirms it's true: two ice caps in Canada's Nunavut province have disappeared completely, providing more visual evidence of the rapid warming happening near the poles, as CTV News in Canada reported.
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