RESEARCH

Covid-19 Climate Update

This is a very special occasion to address some updates about climate. The entire human race is facing a spreading pandemic which seems to be friendly to the environment. CO2 emission has dropped in many areas due to the restrictions imposed on outdoor activities; animals also seem to be more active in the urban areas (or at least previously human occupied areas) without human intervention. But how much does Covid-19 really help with the climate?

In a short term, Covid-19 helped with reducing CO2 emission globally due to the reduction in human activities. For instance, China’s emission has fallen significantly (about 25%) at the beginning of this year; New York’s pollution has reduced by about 50% compared with the same time last year (BBC Future, “Will Covid-19 have a lasting impact on the environment?”). While the pollution levels are decreasing across the globe, we cannot be overly positive about the environmental impact of Covid-19. The reduction is only temporary and the Earth’s condition will keep deteriorating if no action will be taken.

If we take a look at the long-term trend of the climate for the past 5 to 10 years, we will understand clearly how little does the reduction in pollution caused by Covid-19 mean to us. According to the report “The Global Climate in 2015-2019” by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the average CO2 concentration over 2015-2019 has risen to be 18% higher than the previous 5 years of 2011-2015; also 2015-2019 were also the warmest fives years “of any equivalent period on record”. No matter which part on earth that we are looking at, the situations are not improving at all (I found this very alarming, check out “The Global Climate 2015-2019” if you are interested in more!). It is true that Covid-19 is helping, but it is utterly inadequate in comparison to the amount of effort we need to put in to actually save the earth.

CO2 Concentration keeps increasing (pg.5 of “The Global Climate 2015-2019”)

Fortunately, it is not all bad news about the environment that we are receiving. Even the short pause in human activity is not the ultimate solution for climate change, it provides valuable information about earth. Aerosols are particles in the air that either scatter or absorb sunlight.They can be coming from countless sources, either from nature or human activities. There are still a lot more to be discovered about them, but now scientists suspect that it might have a cooling effect on the earth’s climate. However, due to great diversities of aerosols mixed in the atmosphere, it is hard to study the effects of them as individual types (are they natural? Or from which human activity as the source do they come from). Luckily, Covid-19 had provided the perfect chance for the scientists to identify the natural aerosols since human activities are restricted. The study of aerosols might be helpful in helping the climate change in the future.

References (also linked in each section)

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200326-covid-19-the-impact-of-coronavirus-on-the-environment

https://library.wmo.int/doc_num.php?explnum_id=9936

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/covid-19-could-help-solve-climate-riddles1/

—Wenqian L. Posted on 23rd April 2020

Hudson Poster.jpg

I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to help in Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory during this summer, in which our professor had led us working on the core samples collected from the Hudson marshes and Alaska peatlands.


New Material Which potentially Can Help with Environmental Protection

Screen Shot 2019-01-04 at 12.01.14 AM.png

Metal-organic frameworks combine a cluster of metal ions and organic linkers to form a honeycomb-like structure. Dr Christian Doonan, The University of Adelaide

Metal-organic Frameworks (MOFs) “are constructed from bridging organic ligands that remain intact throughout the synthesis” (Cheetham; Férey; Loiseau). This type of molecule is extremely porous, in other words, it has a gigantic inter surface area. The ratio between the surface area of MOFs molecules can cover and the weight of MOFs is “one gram of it [MOFs] could be unfolded to cover one-and-a-half football fields” (“Large”). The reason that MOFs is capable of having such an impressive internal storage is that the molecular structure is composed by “two components: the metal ion or cluster and the organic linker”. So why is this significant to Earth protection? Due to the 3 key properties of MOFs: “extraordinarily high surface areas, tunable pore size, and adjustable internal surface”, the molecules are expected to be utilized in capturing CO2 that creates greenhouse effect or storing methane, hydrogen etc. which can be the new clean energy for transportation (“Introduction”). In general, MOFs grabs tons of attention and hope from scientists, despite the few challenges they are facing to build a more massive and stable application of it.

Reference:

[1] Cheetham, AK; Férey, G; Loiseau, T (1999). “Open-framework inorganic materials”.

[2] “Introduction to Metal–Organic Frameworks.” ACS Publications, pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/cr300014x.

[3] “Large Surface Area Lends Superpowers to Ultra-Porous Materials.” Phys.org – News and Articles on Science and Technology, Phys.org, phys.org/news/2018-04-large-surface-area-superpowers-ultra-porous.html#jCp.

[4] Sumby, Christopher. “MOF the Chart: Why a Record-Breaking Surface Area Matters.” The Conversation, The Conversation, 3 Jan. 2019, theconversation.com/mof-the-chart-why-a-record-breaking-surface-area-matters-9915.  (where the illustration is from)

YS Ding, Posted on January 4th, 2019


How Native American tribes are bringing back the bison from brink of extinction

By Jeremy Hance, December 12th, 2018

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Bison in the snow Photograph: Neal Herbert/Yellowstone NPSReuters

Bison was the spiritual and cultural symbol of numerous Native American tribes, unfortunately, the bison herd in Montana was massively slaughtered during the Manifest Age. New settlers intended to cut off the life support and faith of tribes during their conflicts. Eventually, the bison population dropped dramatically from tens of millions to extinction within a few decades.

There were 23 bison survived  through the slaughter in 19th century in Yellowstone.

Peck Fort tribe was the first one volunteered to bring back these herds. Some tribes gradually built up a economical herd, but in 2012, they brought a herd of about 60 bison from Yellowstone back to the Fort Peck reservation as a cultural herd. Within only a few years, the herd already brought a better balance to the ecosystem, said Jonathan Proctor, the member of Defenders of Wildlife. Now the population grows to approximate 4000 as a wildlife group with no interbred with domestic cattle. More importantly, between 13 tribal nations from Canada and US, represented reservations signed a Buffalo Treaty in 2014, which enhances the significance of bringing back and protecting undomesticated herds of bisons. This treaty increases the returning of buffalo herds back to their original places. For instance, with the treaty catalyzing both Canadian and US parks to re-wild, Y2Y Initiative group agrees to bring back wild bison herds to Yukon’s recreation of wildlife corridor after they were gone for over 100 years. Fort Peck’s goal is to have 2500 buffalo in more than 40000 hectares land as the tribe already found resolution to purchase more land for the herd, despite the widespread poverty. Native American tribes not only actively protect wild buffalo, but also grizzly bears, black-footed ferrets, swift foxes, wolves and other species. “‘It’s amazing … with limited budgets and widespread poverty, [Native American tribes] are the leader in wildlife restoration when compared to the state wildlife agency,” said Robert Magnan, the director of Fort Peck fishing and game department. ‘In reality, it was not the buffalo that left us, it was us that left the buffalo. So we have to do something.’” (check out the original website for more details!)

click here: the_original_article

YS Ding, Posted on Dec.24 2018


2018 NOBEL PRIZE OF CHEMISTRY REVIEW

The Nobel Prizes of Chemistry of 2018 addresses three laureates, Frances H. Arnold with half of the prize share, George P. Smith with a quarter of the prize share and Sir Gregory P. Winter with another one fourth of the prize share. Frances H. Arnold was awarded for her discoveries ”for the directed evolution of enzymes”; George P. Smith and Sir Gregory P. Winter “for the phage display of peptides and antibodies”. The research done by Frances H. Arnold plays a serious role in environmental protection mainly with the study of enzymes.

Frances’ researching method is based on the evolutionary theory; Unlike how each species evolve with time and choose the most desired feature for themselves, Frances and her team utilized artificial selection to preserve the most desired function of an enzyme. she used subtilisin obtained from Bacillus subtilis to conduct directed evolution. Frances picks out the segment in Bacillus subtilis that contains subtilisin and introduced random mutation, then injected subtilisin back into Bacillus subtilis so that it can evolve depends on virus’ rapid reproduction. At the end of the day, the experimenters would pick the best enzyme that had been generated by evolution.

Substilin is known to be able to hydrolyze the casein in milk; and the final result showed that the modified enzyme (subtilisin) was able to hydrolyze the casein 256x better than the original enzyme.

Frances had also mentioned “DNA Shuffling” technique invented by Willem P. C. Stemmer in her lecture. “DNA Shuffling” is a process of recombination and creation of a gene library with all possible outcomes of enzymes. Scientists are able to choose the enzyme with the best function among the library. With “DNA Shuffling”, the enzymes are able to perform even better on their tasks of hydrolyzing casein.

As science undergoes a rapid growth, many kinds of industries are also trying to develop new products and techniques alone with the growth in science. Among them, chemical industry is making much difference to the world with numerous chemicals; While the growth is taking place in the industrial market, the pollution and harm caused by the chemicals are also evident. The “directed evolution of enzymes” by Frances H. Arnold is so important for the science community and the industrial market because it reduces the amount of co-factors, which is the source of pollution, in a chemical reaction. Just like the incredible effect the new enzyme had on the casein, the enzymes are also one of the ultimate resolutions to reduce pollution from the beginning.

References:

https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/chemistry/2018/arnold/lecture/ (Frances H. Arnold’s Nobel Lecture)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5901037/ (Frances H. Arnold’s Research)

https://www.che.caltech.edu/groups/fha/publications/Arnold_ACR_1998.pdf (Frances H. Arnold’s Research)

Wenqian L. Posted on Dec. 23. 2018


The Environmental Cost of Fast Fashion

By Patsy Perry

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 “Women Walk Past Tannery Wastewater That Is Being Pumped From a Factory Straight Into The Street, in Cairo’s Ain el-Sirra District”   Reuters

Although Fast Fashion is quite tempting as it is “inspired by catwalk looks or celebrity styles”, with cheaper and quicker production. However, when it gains more attraction in business, Fast Fashion destroys environment deeply. “Textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture”. Because of the toxic chemicals synthetic dye contains, the damage to river, ocean is detrimental, many of these chemicals are “bio-accumulative (meaning the substance builds up in an organism faster than the organism can excrete or metabolize it), disruptive to hormones and carcinogenic.”

Fast Fashion also increases the plantation of cotton, which requires toxic chemical use for pesticides. Such a large use is tremendously harmful to organism, for example, it caused an US cotton farmer’s death from a brain tumour “and serious birth defects in Indian cotton farmers’ children”, shown in documentary called The True Cost. Although some companies as H&M, Inditex are increasing investment in organic cotton, the general use of organic cotton is “less than 1 per cent of the world’s total annual cotton crop.”

One factor Fast Fashion causes numerous environmental issues is that it is a worldwide scale business, it quickly changes and discards the new and old styles, which leads to textile waste “as more people buy more clothes and don’t keep them as long as they used to”. In addition, with more access and wealth that are brought by technologies, people are less likely to repair clothes like sewing, but instead just discard the old one and buy a new cloth. While the “habit” of recycling or donating only take a small portion in street stores. How about other alternatives? Maybe choosing eco-friendly fabric? Actually, “Recycled content is often best of all, as it reduces the pressure on virgin resources and tackles the growing problem of waste management.” For instance, Patagonia recycle plastic bottles to produce polyester fleece.

Link to the original article:

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/environment-costs-fast-fashion-pollution-waste-sustainability-a8139386.html

YS Ding, Posted on Sep.10 2018


There Might Be Shark In Your Sunscreen

By Annie Roth

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Photograph by Brian J. Skerry, National Geographic Creative

Did you know that in order to produce some Sunscreen, millions of endangered sharks are being killed? Shark’s liver secrets a type of oil called squalene, which can also be found in plants. However, killing sharks is cheaper than extracting oil from plants. As a result, of 60 species that are hunted, 26 kinds may go extinct. Due to difficulty in monitoring species’ population in deep ocean, protection of endangered sharks and regulation of shark hunting by fishermen are hard to execute.

Link to the original article:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/07/sharks-news-cosmetics-squalene-health/

YS Ding, Posted on Sep.5 2018


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