Geologists might have just solved a sixty year old Russian mystery

Featured image: Soviet authorities investigate a mangled tent involved in the Dyatlov Pass Incident. This work is in the public domain and is not an object of copyright according to article 1259 of Book IV of the Civil Code of the Russian Federation No. 230-FZ of December 18, 2006.

Paper: Gaume, J., Puzrin, A.M. Mechanisms of slab avalanche release and impact in the Dyatlov Pass incident in 1959. Commun Earth Environ 2, 10 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43247-020-00081-8

In 1959, a group of nine hikers led by Igor Dyatlov trekked through the Ural Mountains in Eastern Russia on a skiing trip. After no word by telegram from the hikers for eight days, their families grew nervous and demanded a search and rescue effort. Over two weeks after the hikers planned contact with their base camp, investigators located an abandoned and mangled tent on the slope of Kholat Syakhl (“Dead Hill” in the local dialect of Mansi). 

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Plants may help solve the climate crisis, but is there enough water for everyone?

Featured image: Sugarcane plantation to produce ethanol in Brazil by José Reynaldo da Fonseca on Wikipedia under CC BY 2.5.

Paper: Stenzel, F., Greve, P., Lucht, W. et al. Irrigation of biomass plantations may globally increase water stress more than climate change. Nat Commun 12, 1512 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-21640-3

In order to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, we must stay under a 1.5℃ average global temperature increase from pre-industrial levels. To help reach this goal, there is growing interest in “negative emission technologies”, which are methods of removing greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, from the atmosphere. These carbon capture technologies have been around since the 1970s, but the best carbon capture technology might be as simple as plants.  Fabian Stenzel and his team explain that cultivating fast-growing plant species, processing them into biomass, and capturing any emitted carbon dioxide therein, would actually result in negative emissions. Specifically, creating biomass through this method can capture upwards of 2 gigatons of carbon per year by 2050 (that’s close to the mass of 12 million blue whales). Burning this would also unlock an incredibly energy dense source of power. While burning the biomass would inevitably release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the process of growing it would drastically offset this by removing a much larger amount. However, one crucial question needs to be answered: will we have enough water to pull it off?

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There’s microplastics in the Arctic, and we can probably blame home laundry

Microplastic Thread

Featured image: Microplastic thread courtesy of M.Danny25 on Wikipedia under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Paper: Ross, P.S., Chastain, S., Vassilenko, E. et al. Pervasive distribution of polyester fibres in the Arctic Ocean is driven by Atlantic inputs. Nat Commun 12, 106 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-20347-1

The Arctic is full of plastic–polyester fibers to be exact. Peter S. Ross and his team found upwards of forty polyester fibers for every cubic meter of the Arctic Ocean’s surface. Their new study in Nature Communications also revealed that these fibers were more common in the East Arctic, which is fed by the Atlantic Ocean, than the West Arctic. The scientists suggest that the presence of these fibers coupled with their uneven distribution throughout the ocean could be due to an unlikely source: home laundry. 

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