(TMU) — Over the years, air pollution in cities across the world had become the “new normal.” But now, in the midst in the worldwide pandemic, cities have become quiet as they are locked down with businesses closed and citizens forced to self-isolate.
As the streets are emptied of all vehicles except those needed for emergencies and essential services, the sky has started clearing and becoming bluer than it’s been for a very, very long time.
In London, Milan, Rome and Paris air pollution levels dropped drastically since the enforced shut downs in attempts to stop the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.
Across the city of London, the levels of nitrogen dioxide, mostly emitted by vehicle exhausts, and levels of particulate matter, from road transport and burning fuel, have noticeably been reduced in a relatively short period.
According to scientists, PM2.5, an ultra-fine particulate matter, is down to about half the level it has been during this time of the year based on average measurement taken over the past five years.
Since mid-February, both pollutants have dropped by around half, according to data from the London Air Quality Network and analyzed by The National Centre for Atmospheric Science.
Meanwhile, the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P satellite confirmed that nitrogen dioxide levels are considerably lower over London compared to March 2019.
Traffic and pollution levels across Europe have dropped amid the #COVIDoutbreak. @DescartesLabs processed data from #Sentinel5P satellite and compared it to March 10-22 of last year. Here's what they found: pic.twitter.com/YoLx2Cm90p
— Pattrn (@pattrn) March 25, 2020
A similar pattern is seen in other European cities. The air pollutant concentrations in Rome have seen a drop of 50%, and by 30% in Paris, according to data from the European Environment Agency.
The huge reduction of traffic pollution in London follows the restrictions on her citizens from gathering in groups and moving around freely, other than for necessary work, emergencies, shopping for essentials like food and medicines, or one form of daily exercise as part of precautionary measures during the pandemic.
Professor Alastair Lewis, from the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, University of York, told the Daily Mail:
‘’Air quality has started to improve in many UK cities, mirroring what has been seen in other countries that have restricted travel and levels of outdoor activity.
This is primarily a consequence of lower traffic volumes, and some of the most clear reductions have been in nitrogen dioxide, which comes primarily from vehicle exhaust.
However fine particles (PM2.5) have also reduced significantly.
In London for example, PM2.5 is noticeably lower than would be expected for this time of year at the roadside, and these reductions stretch through into the suburbs as well.’’
Professor Lewis emphasized the importance of the change in PM2.5 levels compared to what we would usually observe during this time of year. He explained that ‘’air pollution is noisy and often changes based on the weather, and therefore it’s best to compare where we are now against where we might have expected to be based on previous years’’.
Although the current data seem to show reductions in pollution resulting in improved air quality, it seems fair to assume that once travel restrictions are lifted, pollution levels will probably rise to pre-2020 levels. Unless, of course, seeing the blue sky again inspires us to work towards finding a more permanent solution to reduce traffic in our cities.
Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral
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.
Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History
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.”
South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash
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.