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World’s Oldest Lake Containing 20% of Earth’s Unfrozen Freshwater Faces Toxic Threat

Lake Baikal was formed between 25 and 30 million years ago and is the largest freshwater lake on Earth by volume.

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(TMU) — The world’s oldest and deepest lake is facing a catastrophic threat as toxic mudflows resulting from intense flooding in Russia’s Siberia region threaten to inundate the body of water with chemicals.

Lake Baikal, which is located north of the Russia-Mongolian border deep in southern Siberia, was formed between 25 and 30 million years ago. With a maximum depth of 5,387 feet, the lake is the seventh-largest in the world by surface area.

However, the lake—which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996—also contains over 20 percent of the planet’s unfrozen surface water, making it the largest freshwater lake on Earth by volume.

Now, environmentalists are warning that the lake is threatened by an impending ecological catastrophe, with the lake’s nearly 2,000 endemic species unique to the region facing a mortal threat from toxic conditions in the surrounding area.

The chief threat includes a flooding river in the town of Baikalsk, which lies on the banks of the lake, that has affected the Soviet-era Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill. The situation could lead to massive amounts of toxic waste containing chemicals like lignin washing into the pristine waters of Lake Baikal, the Siberian Times wrote.

The untreated waste stored at the site, which was closed in 2013, fills 13 storage ponds—including three that lie directly on the banks of the lake, three others to the east, and the remainder that lie slightly uphill, landslide expert Dave Petley said.

In total, the ponds contain about 6.2 million tons of untreated toxic waste.

In a blog post for the American Geophysical Union, Petley wrote that “the risks at this waste storage site are clearly unacceptably high, and the consequences of a major failure into Lake Baikal at Baikalsk would be truly catastrophic.”

Petley explained:

“The potential threat here lies in the setting of the waste ponds … the whole site is located on an active fan fed by the channel that emerges from the mountains. It is entirely reasonable, based upon the morphology, to assume that this channel is subject to flash floods and debris flows. In these systems, one would expect that high volume flows will overflow the channel and migrate across the fan. If so, the first waste pond in the staircase would be at high risk of being inundated.

… The potential consequences of such an event entering the highest waste storage pond should be clear—the likelihood of a very large debris flow breaching the first waste pond looks to be very high indeed. This pond would probably fail, inundating the next one downslope, and so on. Thus, it is entirely feasible that seven or more storage facilities could fail, releasing the waste into the lake. Of course, the three ponds to the east are also vulnerable.”

The flooding that began in the Siberian region of Irkutsk in June has directly affected about 11,000 homes, Radio Free Europe reports.

In the meantime, wildfires in Siberia have engulfed about 3 million hectares of mainly remote forest area—roughly the size of Belgium—according to authorities. The situation has prompted several regions to declare states of emergency.

In 2012, the Russian government allocated around $420 million to Lake Baikal cleanup efforts, but critics allege that the money was not spent properly.

The last disastrous mudflow into Lake Baikal took place in July 1971, and washed over 12 miles of the Trans-Siberian railway directly into the lake.

By Elias Marat | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Animals

Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral

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A massive 400-year-old hard coral discovered on the Great Barrier Reef has scientists expressing their sense of surprise and excitement.

Named Muga dambhi by the Manbarra people, the Indigenous group who have traditionally taken care of the land, the “exceptionally large” brown and cream-colored coral is located off the coast of Goolboodi or Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef.

It is believed that the coral was spawned some 421 to 438 years ago, meaning that its age predates the arrival of Captain James Cook and the advent of colonization in Australia, notes the Guardian.

The spectacular coral is about 35 feet wide and over 17 feet high, and is double the size of the nearest coral.

Scientists and members of the community participating in a marine science course discovered the specimen earlier this year.

While not the largest coral in the world, the huge find is of major significance to the local ecosystem, according to Adam Smith, an adjunct professor at James Cook University who wrote the field note on the find.

“It’s like a block of apartments,” Smith said. “It attracts other species. There’s other corals, there’s fish, there’s other animals around that use it for shelter or for feeding, so it’s pretty important for them.”

“It’s a bit like finding a giant redwood tree in the middle of a botanic gardens,” he added.

It is likely that the coral hasn’t been discovered for such a long time due to its location in a relatively remote and unvisited portion of a Marine National Park zone that enjoys a high degree of protection.

“Over the last 20 or 30 years, no one has noticed, or observed, or thought it newsworthy enough to share photos, or document, or do research on this giant coral,” Smith said.

The coral is in remarkable condition, with over 70 percent of its surface covered in live coral, coral rock and microalgae. No disease, bleaching or recently deceased coral has been recorded on the specimen.

“The cumulative impact of almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones over a period of four centuries, plus declining nearshore water quality contextualise the high resilience of this Porites coral,” the field note added.

The specific coral has been given the name Muga dhambi, meaning big coral, out of respect for the Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture of the Manbarra Traditional Owners.

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Environment

Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History

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For the first time in recorded history, torrential downpours of rain have struck Greenland’s icy summit nearly two miles above sea level.

Greenland, an environmentally sensitive island, is typically known for its majestic ice sheet and snowy climate, but this is fast changing due to a massive melt taking place this summer.

However, the typical snowfall has been replaced in recent years not simply by a few showers, but by heavy rainfall. The torrential downpour last week was so huge, in fact, that it washed away a terrifying amount of ice across some 337,000 square miles of the ice shelf’s surface, reports Earther.

Temperatures at the ice shelf had simultaneously warmed to a significant degree, with the summit reaching 33 degrees Fahrenheit – within a degree above freezing and the third time that the shelf has surpassed freezing temperatures this decade.

The fact that rain is falling on ice rather than snow is also significant because it is melting ice across much of southern Greenland, which already saw huge melting events last month, while hastening rising sea levels that threaten to submerge whole coastal cities and communities.

To make matters worse, any new ice formed by the freezing rainwater will not last long. The ice shelf currently existing on Greenland was formed by the compression of snow over innumerable years, which shines bright white and reflects sunlight away rather than absorbing it, as ice from frozen rain does.

The huge scale of the melt and accompanying rainfall illustrate the growing peril of rapidly warming climate conditions across the globe.

“This event by itself does not have a huge impact, but it’s indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland,” wrote Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”

“Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing,” Scambos told the Washington Post. “We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”

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Environment

South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash

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What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?

It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.

The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.

The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.

“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”

The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.

Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.

Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.

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