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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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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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German biotechnology company Biontech and U.S. drugs giant Pfizer announced on Tuesday that they would start Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials of their BNT162b2 vaccine after getting the go-ahead from regulators.
'The Power of Vaccines'<p>The World Health Organization (WHO) is tracking more than 140 candidate vaccines of which only 5 are in Phase 3 clinical trials. American biotechnology company Moderna has also announced Phase 3 trials this week.</p><p>However, Western countries have also fought to gain rights to the first batch of vaccines, raising concerns that impoverished countries may be the last to receive them.</p><p>Phase 3 clinical trials are the final regulatory hurdle before approval. Amid a rise in disinformation campaigns questioning the safety of vaccines, the WHO has pushed to educate societies on the benefits of such medical treatments.</p><p>"The COVID-19 pandemic is unraveling many of the gains we have made through immunization campaigns ... putting hundreds of millions of people at risk," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last month. "Now is the moment for the world to come together in solidarity to realize the power of vaccines."</p>
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Unprecedented bushfires that ravaged Australia in 2019 and 2020 killed or displaced almost 3 billion animals, according to an interim report released Tuesday.
'Shocking' Findings<p>A previous study released in January had estimated that around 1 billion animals perished in the hardest-hit states of Victoria and New South Wales in eastern Australia. But the survey published Tuesday was the first to assess fire zones across the entire country, lead scientist Lily van Eeden of the University of Sydney said.</p><p>The survey's results are preliminary, with a full report to be released next month, but scientists said the estimate of 3 billion animals affected was unlikely to change.</p><p>"The interim findings are shocking," WWF Australia CEO Dermot O'Gorman said. "It's hard to think of another event anywhere in the world in living memory that has killed or displaced that many animals."</p><p>"This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history," he added.</p>
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By Charli Shield
Not too long ago, many people weren't sure if trees had a place in cities. People, cars, houses and buildings made up urban areas — there wasn't much room for nature.
As Cities Evolve, Trees Keep Us Grounded.<p>Trees are powerhouses when it comes to regulating city microclimates — filtering air pollution, providing shade, absorbing CO2, helping prevent flash flooding, as well as acting as an important antidote to the urban heat island effect that makes cities far hotter than surrounding rural areas.</p><p>"Trees can make a huge difference to a city's temperature," says Tobi Morakinyo, an urban climatologist whose <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2212095513000084" target="_blank">research</a> into the cooling effect of trees in Akure, southwest Nigeria, showed using trees to shade buildings could cool them down by up to five degrees Celsius.</p><p>In hot sub Saharan African cities like Akure — where average maximum summer temperatures can reach 38 degrees (100 degrees F) — Morakinyo says trees' cooling effect is an important tool councils can wield against both heat stress and cooling costs.</p><p>Alongside the eco-services urban trees provide, there are also the qualities "that we can't put monetary value on," adds Cris Brack, a forest ecologist from the Australian National University and director of the National Arboretum in Canberra. </p><p>Those are "biodiversity, aesthetics and our visceral, gut-need to experience nature," Brack told DW, referring to the concept of 'biophilia' — the idea that humans have an innate desire to connect with nature. Mounting <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/srep11610" target="_blank">evidence</a> shows that people who live in places with more trees experience lower levels of stress and <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41593-019-0451-y" target="_blank">mental illness</a>, even when controlling for socio-economic factors.</p>
Trees Make Us Feel Good — Do We Return the Favor?<p>Though our need for trees in cities appears to only be becoming greater, they often battle oppressive urban environments. Street trees are "in a constant struggle" for space in cities, says Brack, where below ground their root systems can be choked by water pipes, roads and underground car parks, and above ground by pollution, power lines and traffic.</p><p>They also face mechanical damage from cars, battering from increasingly extreme weather conditions and regular uprootings to make way for construction sites.</p><p>Perhaps the most damaging modern challenge for city trees, though, says Somidh Saha, urban forest ecologist at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, is drought. Following Europe's unprecedented heatwave in 2018, a study co-authored by Saha found 30% of the trees planted in Karlsruhe in southwestern Germany over the previous four years had died — both directly and indirectly because of a lack of water.</p><p>"Without enough water, trees become weak and that makes them vulnerable to disease," Saha told DW. At the same time, declining city populations of birds and arboreal mammals, such as bats, leaves insect populations unchecked, and local trees susceptible to their growing numbers.</p>
Seeing the Forest for the Trees<p>Ambitious greening projects have cropped up in several megacities around the globe in recent years. New York City planted a million trees between 2007 and 2015, London mayor Sadiq Khan hopes to green more than half the capital by 2050 to make the world's first "National Park City," while Paris announced it would build four inner-city urban forests throughout 2020.</p><p>But outside the Global North, in places such as Saha's native India and Morakinyo's native Nigeria, where they cite a lack of resources and political will as big barriers to making urban greenery a priority, trees in cities are much scarcer.</p><p>As climate change brings hotter temperatures and unpredictable downpours, cities are demanding a new kind of resilience from urban trees. For many cities in the world, ecologists say that means planting more exotic species of trees.</p><p>While many people are opposed to the idea of planting non-native species, ecologists Brack and Saha say alternative species are usually better adapted to the artificial environment of a city — especially in the face of increasing heatwaves.</p><p>The three-toothed Maple, native to China, Korea and Japan, is one species that could appear in greater numbers in other parts of the world as temperatures rise. </p><p>There's also an important distinction to be made between "exotic" trees, which just means they aren't local, and "invasive" trees, which are harmful — spreading very quickly and dominating the environment. As for local wildlife, while ongoing studies are being carried out in places like Germany by Saha's team, Brack says in his local Canberra, where almost all tree species in the city are exotic, birds happily eat fruit from non-natives and mammals alike find homes wherever there is an appropriate hollow.</p>
Citizens Pitch In<p>One solution to preserving city trees that's grown in popularity in recent years is citizen involvement in urban tree caretaking. New York City's citizen pruner program allows city dwellers to take classes to become official city tree carers, and Berlin — a place that has typically excluded citizens from looking after urban flora — is now allowing residents to apply for permits to maintain tree pits and has proposed that they water city trees in summer.</p><p>Involving citizens has its pros and cons, Dümpelmann says, and these kinds of programs may or may not be effective depending on the culture of the city – but even watering trees alone "has been shown to be a really relevant maintenance effort."</p><p>While planting trees in urban spaces is an effective and fairly efficient way to adapt to climate change, Dümpelmann stresses that it isn't a holistic solution.</p><p>"It's something we should work on while at the same time addressing the root causes of climate change," she said. </p><p>Beyond using trees as geo-engineering fix, urban ecologists point out that more trees in cities could change perspectives on urban living and give people a greater understanding of how to value nature as part of a sustainable, livable city – not separate from it.</p><p>That means seeing trees as living, growing beings, Brack says – not fixed in time, or immune to the stressors of living in harsh urban environments.</p>
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By Kristie Pladson
Russian scientists are excavating the well-preserved skeleton of a woolly mammoth found in a lake in northern Siberia, The Associated Press reported Friday.
Full Excavation Will Take Time<p>On Friday, Russian television stations showed footage of scientists looking for <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/russia-forest-bones-confirmed-to-be-last-tsar-of-russia-and-the-romanov-family/a-54223877" target="_blank">more mammoth bones</a> in the lakeside silt.</p><p>Several larger fragments have already been found following the original discovery this week. However, excavating the rest of the skeleton will require significant time and special equipment, assuming it all survived in position together, the scientists said. </p><p>Finding a complete mammoth skeleton is relatively rare, said Yevgeniya Khozyainova of the Shemanovsky Institute in Salekhard in televised remarks.</p>
Heat Wave Melting Siberia's Permafrost<p>Experts believe woolly mammoths died out around 10,000 years ago. Reaching 5.5 meters (18 feet) in height and weighing up to 12 tons, they were around twice the size and weight of today's elephant.</p><p>The carcasses of several well-preserved mammoths have been uncovered in the permafrost of northern Siberia in recent years, as the region faces a rapid change of climate.</p><p>Siberia is currently experiencing a heat wave, in another warning sign to climate experts who believe rising temperatures could melt the permafrost and release huge amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere . On Friday, the UN weather agency warned that last month's average temperatures there were 10 degrees Celsius (18 Fahrenheit) above normal.</p>
By Isabelle Gerretsen
"When I told people I was going to grow tomatoes in the desert, they thought I was crazy," Sky Kurtz, founder of Pure Harvest Smart Farms, told DW.
Water Scarcity and Fossil-Fuel Reliance<p>The technology uses minimal land and up to 95% less water than conventional agriculture. </p><p>The hydroponics system places the plants' roots directly into a water-based and nutrient-rich solution instead of soil. This "closed loop" system captures and recirculates all the water, rather than allowing it to drain away — useful for a country like the UAE suffering from extremely high water stress.</p><p>Globally, agriculture accounts for 70% of freshwater withdrawals, and UAE is extracting groundwater faster than it can be replenished, according to the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA).</p><p>"Water is very expensive over in the UAE, but energy is cheap as it is subsidized," says Jan Westra, a strategic business developer at Priva, a company providing technology to vertical farms.</p><p>The artificially controlled environment is energy intensive because the air conditioning and LED lights need a constant source of electricity.</p><p>This bringing forth of life in the desert could come at a high environmental cost. Most of that energy comes from carbon-emitting fossil fuels, even as the Middle Eastern country feel the effects of climate change.</p><p>By 2050 Abu Dhabi's average temperature is <a href="https://benthamopen.com/FULLTEXT/TOASCJ-13-56" target="_blank">predicted to increase by around 2.5°C</a> (36.5 F) in a business-as-usual scenario. Over the next 70 years patterns of rainfall are also expected to change.</p>
Integrating Renewable Energy<p>Although Pure Harvest is building a solar-powered farm in neighboring Saudi Arabia, its UAE operations get electricity from the carbon-intensive national grid.</p><p>Investing more in renewables "is a goal of ours," Kurtz told DW. He said the company has not set a clean energy target but is working on various green power projects, including a plan to integrate solar power generated in UAE into its operations. </p><p>However, Willem van der Schans, a researcher specializing in short supply chains at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, says sustainability and clean energy should be "inherent in the technology and included in plans when starting a vertical farm." </p><p>He argues that many vertical farming companies are not sustainable in terms of energy as they still view clean power as an optional "add-on."</p><p>Ismahane Elouafi, director general of the government funded ICBA in Abu Dhabi, acknowledges that vertical farming has some way to go before achieving "real sustainability," but she believes the innovations are "promising."</p><p>Improved battery storage, increasingly efficient LED lights and cheaper solar panels will help, she adds. </p>
Local Solutions<p>By 2050, the UAE government wants to generate almost half its energy from renewable sources.</p><p>Fred Ruijgt, a vertical farming specialist at Priva, argues that it's important to factor transport and refrigeration into the energy equation. Vertical farming uses more energy to grow crops than traditional agriculture, but because crops are grown locally, they do not have to be transported by air, sea or truck over long distances. </p><p>"The energy saving is difficult to calculate exactly, but the advantages of locally grown crops are huge," he says, adding that those grown in vertical farms not only use less water and pesticides, but that they also have a longer shelf life due to minimal transportation time. </p>
Food Security and Coronavirus<p>In 2018, the UAE set out its vision to become a hub for high-tech local food production.</p><p>Companies and investors have flocked to the region, attracted by the 0% corporate tax rate, low labor costs and cheap energy. With their help, UAE aims to reduce its reliance on imports and make its food system more resilient to shocks like climate change and pandemics. </p><p>Oshima from Aerofarms says the coronavirus pandemic has brought "greater appreciation of how fragile the supply chain is and raised questions about food safety and security."</p><p>When the UAE went into lockdown in April, imported supplies of perishable goods like vegetables fell and business boomed for local suppliers.</p><p>ICBA's Elouafi said they have helped keep the UAE well-stocked during the pandemic.</p><p>"With the help of local food production and adequate imports, there has been absolutely no shortage of food in the UAE," Elouafi told DW.</p><p>Climate change, however, poses an altogether more complex threat to the country in the long-term. Given climate change's likely impact on food production, she says vertical farming has shown it is "an economically viable proposition even with harsh climatic conditions."</p>
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By Manuela Callari
It can grow to a maximum of six inches (16 centimeters), change color depending on mood and habitat, and, like all seahorses, the White's seahorse male gestates its young. But this tiny snouted fish is under threat.
Building an Ocean Seahorse Destination<p>Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate coastal water worldwide, but are most abundant around Australia, China and the Philippines. </p><p>Trade in the tiny creatures is strictly regulated because of their use in traditional medicine, aquariums and their sale as dried curios. But because they are poor swimmers and cannot easily move elsewhere, habitat loss is a particular threat for these curious animals. </p><p>Seahorses wrap their tails around seagrass and corals to avoid being carried away on currents. They use the habitat to spawn and hide from predators such as crabs, while also feeding on riches of plankton and small crustaceans living in the reef.</p><p><span></span>Where corals aren't available, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/aqc.1217" target="_blank">scientists</a> found seahorses taking up residence in fishing nets and old crab traps abandoned at the bottom of the ocean. </p>
Mixing With the Locals<p>Baby seahorse mortality is high in the wild because they are easily caught, so those bred in the protected environment of the aquarium weren't ready to be released into the wild until early May.</p><p>The team released 90 new arrivals into Sydney Harbor, placing some directly into the purpose-built hotels, and others onto a net that wild seahorses had already settled on.</p><p>Before setting them free, the researchers marked each young seahorse with a fluorescent tag with unique IDs inserted just beneath the skin to track how they get on in the different environments. </p><p>"The most exciting part was being able to put these animals into the wild and then go back a month later and still see them surviving and growing," said McCracken. </p><p>The seahorses will be old enough to mate and reproduce around October or November 2020. And researchers hope that by then, they will be able to breed with the wild population. </p>
Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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By Jo Harper
Investment in U.S. offshore wind projects are set to hit $78 billion (€69 billion) this decade, in contrast with an estimated $82 billion for U.S. offshore oil and gasoline projects, Wood Mackenzie data shows. This would be a remarkable feat only four years after the first offshore wind plant — the 30 megawatt (MW) Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island — started operating in U.S. waters.
Corporates Shift<p>Helping to drive offshore growth, U.S. corporate buyers <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/cities-leading-the-transition-to-renewables/a-42850621" target="_blank">are increasingly relying on wind energy to power their businesses</a>. Walmart and AT&T are the two top corporate wind buyers, while 14 newcomers entered the wind market in 2019, including Estée Lauder and McDonald's.</p><p>"Oil and gas companies have jumped into the U.S. offshore wind market, where they can transfer expertise in offshore fossil fuel development to clean energy investments," says Max Cohen, principal analyst, Americas Power & Renewable research at Wood Mackenzie. Many international oil and gas companies have already recognized this huge potential and entered the US offshore wind market, including Orsted, Equinor and Shell.</p><p>"Given the recent tumult in oil prices, fossil fuel companies may more and more be looking to diversify their portfolios, particularly with assets that are contracted or offer returns uncorrelated with oil and gas," Cohen says. "Offshore wind is an area where they may have a comparative advantage, and they can then leverage the experience with that technology to make the leap to onshore wind, solar, and other renewable technologies," he says.</p>
East Coast leads the way<p>"There is enormous opportunity, especially off the East Coast, for wind. I am very bullish," said former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. "Market excitement is moving towards offshore wind. I haven't seen this kind of enthusiasm from industry since the Bakken shale boom," he said.</p><p>Offshore wind initiatives require excessive upfront spending: a 250 MW venture costs about $1 billion, based on International Energy Agency data, but as costs fall the tipping point after which costs fall faster gets nearer</p><p>"The opportunity has been created by Northeastern states seeing the large price declines for offshore wind in Europe," says Cohen. Onshore wind is historically the lowest cost renewable resource, but is at its most expensive in the Northeast, he adds. "But costs are falling slower than for other technologies," he says.</p>
Jobs and Coastal Revitalization<p>U.S. wind energy now supports 120,000 US jobs and 530 domestic factories. A study by the University of Delaware predicted that the supply chain needed to build offshore turbines to feed power to seven East Coast states by 2030 would generate nearly $70 billion in economic activity and at least 40,000 full-time jobs. An American Wind Energy Association's (AWEA's) March 2020 report estimated that developing 30,000 MW of offshore wind along the East Coast could support up to 83,000 jobs and $25 billion in annual economic output by 2030.</p><p>Having said that, not all of the jobs are American jobs. The offshore wind developers with commercial leases in the US are all foreign companies. There is growing interest from the shipbuilding sector in the Gulf of Mexico in partnering with offshore wind companies to provide services. As a result, some of the US oil trade associations have submitted comments supporting certain aspects of offshore wind. "However, it is unclear to what extent offshore wind developers plan to use US vessels and crew, and the existing projects did not incorporate US vessels or labor at all," Hawkins says.</p>
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By Julia Vergin
It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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