Wildfires in Western Canada Created Air Pollution Spikes as Far Away as New York City
New York City isn't known for having the cleanest air, but researchers traced recent air pollution spikes there to two surprising sources — fires hundreds of miles away in Canada and the southeastern U.S.
According to a study published this week in the European Geosciences Union's journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, researchers at Yale University monitored air quality at several locations in the New York City metropolitan area and at the Yale Coastal Field Station in Guilford, CT, and found two spikes in air pollutants during August 2018 resulting in ozone advisories in both New York City and Connecticut.
The researchers, from associate professor Drew Gentner's research group, then compared the data from the five observation sites to satellite imagery and backtracking 3D air parcel models developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, New Scientist reported.
They traced the first pollution spike between August 16-17 to historic wildfires on Canada's west coast. By August, British Columbia had declared 2018 its worst wildfire season on record, with 534 fires burning more than 8,000 square miles, according to The CBC.
A second spike from August 27-29 was connected with controlled burns in the southeastern U.S., The Daily Mail reported.
The pollutants they detected included black carbon and particulate matter with a diameter under 2.5 micrometers, called PM2.5, which are common components of smoke from biomass burning and harmful when inhaled.
Previous research has shown that PM2.5 exposure is associated with a number of diseases — including lung and brain cancer, cardiovascular disease and dementia — and even levels allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could be responsible for 200,000 deaths per year in the U.S.
A 2019 study found that short-term spikes in PM2.5 pollution resulted in increased hospital psychiatric unit visits for children with anxiety, suicidal thoughts and schizophrenia.
The reason why the PM2.5 pollution traveled hundreds of miles from its sources to the northeast over the course of up to a week, the researchers explained, is that it lasts longer than more reactive components of the smoke which are chemically transformed nearer to the source.
A report from The American Lung Association last year found that New York City was already the tenth worst U.S. city for ozone pollution, but the Yale researchers believe the effects of smoke from faraway wildfires will increasingly pose a threat to residents there and across the northeast due to climate change.
"When people are making predictions about climate change, they're predicting increases in wildfires, so this sort of pollution is likely going to become more common," lead author Haley Rogers, an undergraduate student when the study was conducted, said in a press release. "So when people are planning for air pollution and health impacts, you can't just address local sources."
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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