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Researchers look for unique ways to collect data as COVID-19 changes methods – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Aaron Fairweather has 27 colonies of ants to keep happy in the living room by getting the temperature, humidity and light just right although the environment at home may not feel quite as comfortable as in a lab.

The PhD entomology student from the University of Guelph said it was the only way to continue collecting data as COVID-19 puts a damper on research and labs can’t be used.

Fairweather, like several other scientists, is trying to make the best of the summer when researchers typically spend long hours outdoors collecting data in the field.

“It’s a pretty bleak year for research,” Fairweather said. “There will be a gap in the knowledge.”

Fairweather had been planning an intensive research project on ants since last fall but said a lack of the usual resources could mean a setback for an entire year.

“I have to wait till next year, probably, to be able to get in and do the active experiments that I wanted to do.”

While the data collected from the colonies of ants at home could help, that type of research is not feasible for many scientists so a gap in research might mean data could be skewed or years of work have to be thrown out, Fairweather said.

Arthur Fredeen, a professor in the Natural Resources and Environmental Studies Institute at the University of Northern British Columbia, said he is concerned about teaching field work.

His ecology class this fall requires working with students taking measurements and observations in the field, he said.

“I’ve had to grapple with the technologies that can help me deliver the course online, even though it will be quite challenging to do so in an adequate way.”

Pascal Lee won’t be testing equipment and studying rocks in the high Arctic this month, likely for the first time in nearly 25 years.

The chairman of the Mars Institute and a planetary scientist with the California-based SETI Institute does research on Devon Island because its surface resembles the “red planet.”

This year his team planned on testing a new space suit and an “astronaut smart glove.”

The group hopes to make it to the island in September but if that falls through, their equipment may have to be tested in the United States.

“Missing a summer for us means missing a year,” he said.

The choice for some researchers is between losing out on a year of data collection through field work and adapting to quarantine on a boat for a month.

The director of the University of British Columbia’s Marine Mammal Research Unit will be doing the latter with eight researchers as they continue a study from last year to determine if there is a shortage of chinook salmon for southern resident killer whales.

Andrew Trites said the researchers are creating their own bubble on the boat, starting with a two-week quarantine period before they board the vessel in mid-August.

Everybody is “a little paranoid,” Trites said.

“In the end if the pandemic doesn’t kill us, maybe being confined together will,” he said laughing. “It’ll be quite a challenge.”

On a similar research trip last year, scientists got off the boat after docking and went into cities and towns, but that won’t happen this year, he said.

Only one person, masked and gloved, will be allowed to leave the wooden boat called Gikumi to get supplies while the vessel is refuelled.

“We’re going to be packed a little bit like sardines but everybody has a job on the boat,” he said, noting team members are aware of the effect the quarantine period might have on their mental health although being able to see the horizon may help.

Field work is important, Trites said because there is an element of biology, which can’t be done without being near animals.

While computers and mathematical models make projections and look at probabilities, he said answers to some questions can come only by observing animals in their natural habitat and recording what’s going on to make meaningful comparisons and draw conclusions.

What the team will miss, Trites said, is the interaction with researchers on other boats.

One of the biggest losses this research season may be the generation of new ideas, reflection, and the “ability to brainstorm together to solve biological mysteries,” he said.

“So, we’ll be waving at other researchers whom we know from a distance, and hoping there will be an opportunity in six months, a year, year-and-a-half, where you can finally sit down together and have much more meaningful conversations.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 1, 2020.

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'Canary in the coal mine': Greenland ice has shrunk beyond return, study finds – CBC.ca

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Greenland’s ice sheet may have shrunk past the point of return, with the ice likely to melt away no matter how quickly the world reduces climate-warming emissions, new research suggests.

Scientists studied data on 234 glaciers across the Arctic territory — spanning 34 years through 2018 — and found that annual snowfall was no longer enough to replenish glaciers of the snow and ice being lost to summertime melting.

That melting is already causing global seas to rise about a millimetre on average per year. If all of Greenland’s ice goes, the water released would push sea levels up by an average of six metres — enough to swamp many coastal cities around the world. This process, however, would take decades.

“Greenland is going to be the canary in the coal mine, and the canary is already pretty much dead at this point,” said glaciologist Ian Howat of Ohio State University. He and his colleagues published the study Thursday in the journal Communications Earth & Environment.

The Arctic has been warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the world for the last 30 years, an observation referred to as Arctic amplification. The polar sea ice hit its lowest extent for July in 40 years.

The Arctic thaw has brought more water to the region, opening up routes for shipping traffic, as well as increased interest in extracting fossil fuels and other natural resources.

Greenland is strategically important for the U.S. military and its ballistic missile early warning system, as the shortest route from Europe to North America goes via the Arctic island.

Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump offered to buy Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory. But Denmark, a U.S. ally, rebuffed the offer. Then last month, the U.S. reopened a consulate in the territory’s capital of Nuuk, and Denmark reportedly said last week it was appointing an intermediary between Nuuk and Copenhagen some 3,500 kilometres away.

The Tracy glacier in Greenland is shown in September 2018 in this satellite image. Scientists studied images like this one to determine the chance of glaciers regaining mass in coming decades. (Maxar Technologies via Reuters)

Scientists, however, have long worried about Greenland’s fate, given the amount of water locked into the ice.

The new study suggests the territory’s ice sheet will now gain mass only once every 100 years — a grim indicator of how difficult it is to regrow glaciers once they hemorrhage ice.

In studying satellite images of the glaciers, the researchers noted that they had a 50 per cent chance of regaining mass before 2000, with the odds declining since.

“We are still draining more ice now than what was gained through snow accumulation in ‘good’ years,” said lead author Michalea King, a glaciologist at Ohio State University.

The sobering findings should spur governments to prepare for sea-level rise, King said.

“Things that happen in the polar regions don’t stay in the polar region.”

The world can still bring down emissions to slow climate change, scientists said. Even if Greenland can’t regain the icy bulk that covered its two million square kilometres, containing the global temperature rise can slow the rate of ice loss.

“When we think about climate action, we’re not talking about building back the Greenland ice sheet,” said Twila Moon, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, in Boulder, Colo., who was not involved in the study.

“We’re talking about how quickly rapid sea-level rise comes to our communities, our infrastructure, our homes, our military bases.”

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Research lab creates environmentally friendly flip flops from algae – Calgary Sun

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Researchers at University of California, San Diego hope to make future beach visits both environmentally and fashion-friendly, with a new formula for biodegradable flip flops.

Mike Burkart, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the public research university in San Diego, California, has developed a polymer from algae, which decomposes naturally.

The laboratory initially made gasoline from algae before turning its attention to surfboards, and now the humble flip flop.

“Almost every major shoe manufacturer has come to talk to us about the possibility of using our materials in their products,” Burkart said.

The simple footwear is affordable and popular around the world, and therefore makes up a significant portion of discarded plastics polluting oceans and seas. But Burkart is hoping his algae-based shoe-wear will change that.

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“We’re also talking to other companies, for example, for things like food packaging or other types of materials that we don’t want to live forever in the environment,” Burkart said.

“We really want those to be able to decompose or be able to be recycled,” he said.

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Climate change: Greenland's ice sheet has melted past the point of no return – FRANCE 24 English

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Issued on: 15/08/2020 – 14:58

Greenland’s ice sheet may have shrunk past the point of return, with the ice likely to melt away no matter how quickly the world reduces climate-warming emissions, new research suggests.

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Scientists studied data on 234 glaciers across the Arctic territory spanning 34 years through 2018 and found that annual snowfall was no longer enough to replenish glaciers of the snow and ice being lost to summertime melting.

That melting is already causing global seas to rise about a millimeter on average per year. If all of Greenland’s ice goes, the water released would push sea levels up by an average of 6 meters — enough to swamp many coastal cities around the world. This process, however, would take decades.

“Greenland is going to be the canary in the coal mine, and the canary is already pretty much dead at this point,” said glaciologist Ian Howat at Ohio State University. He and his colleagues published the study Thursday in the Nature Communications Earth & Environment journal.

The Arctic has been warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the world for the last 30 years, an observation referred to as Arctic amplification. The polar sea ice hit its lowest extent for July in 40 years.

The Arctic thaw has brought more water to the region, opening up routes for shipping traffic, as well as increased interest in extracting fossil fuels and other natural resources.

Greenland is strategically important for the U.S. military and its ballistic missile early warning system, as the shortest route from Europe to North America goes via the Arctic island.

Last year, President Donald Trump offered to buy Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory. But Denmark, a U.S. ally, rebuffed the offer. Then last month, the U.S. reopened a consulate in the territory’s capital of Nuuk, and Denmark reportedly said last week it was appointing an intermediary between Nuuk and Copenhagen some 3,500 kilometers away.

Scientists, however, have long worried about Greenland’s fate, given the amount of water locked into the ice.

The new study suggests the territory’s ice sheet will now gain mass only once every 100 years — a grim indicator of how difficult it is to re-grow glaciers once they hemorrhage ice.

In studying satellite images of the glaciers, the researchers noted that the glaciers had a 50% chance of regaining mass before 2000, with the odds declining since.

“We are still draining more ice now than what was gained through snow accumulation in ‘good’ years,” said lead author Michalea King, a glaciologist at Ohio State University.

The sobering findings should spur governments to prepare for sea-level rise, King said.

“Things that happen in the polar regions don’t stay in the polar region,” she said.

Still, the world can still bring down emissions to slow climate change, scientists said. Even if Greenland can’t regain the icy bulk that covered its 2 million square kilometers, containing the global temperature rise can slow the rate of ice loss.

“When we think about climate action, we’re not talking about building back the Greenland ice sheet,” said Twila Moon, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center who was not involved in the study. “We’re talking about how quickly rapid sea-level rise comes to our communities, our infrastructure, our homes, our military bases.”

(REUTERS)

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