U.S. is one of the world’s top contributors to coastal plastic pollution

Oct. 30 (UPI) — The coastline of the United States is relatively clean compared to other parts of the world, but new research suggests the U.S. is one of the world’s top contributors to coastal plastic pollution.

The U.S. exports large amounts of plastic waste. Previous studies have ignored plastic scrap exports, offering the impression that the United States was effectively collecting, disposing and recycling its plastic waste, researchers have said.

According to a new study, published Friday in the journal Science Advances, more than half of the plastic waste collected for recycling in the U.S. — 1.99 million metric tons of 3.91 million metric tons — is shipped out of the country.

Researchers found the vast majority of exported plastic scraps, 88 percent, ends up in countries that are struggling to adequately manage plastic waste. Environmental scientists determined at least 1 million metric tons of plastic waste exported by the U.S. ends up polluting environments abroad every year.

“For years, so much of the plastic we have put into the blue bin has been exported for recycling to countries that struggle to manage their own waste, let alone the vast amounts delivered from the United States,” study lead author Kara Lavender Law said in a news release.

“And when you consider how much of our plastic waste isn’t actually recyclable because it is low-value, contaminated or difficult to process, it’s not surprising that a lot of it ends up polluting the environment,” said Law, a research professor of oceanography at the Sea Education Association.

Researchers also determined that a small but not inconsequential amount of plastic waste collected in the U.S. each year — 2 to 3 percent — is littered or illegally dumped.

After accounting for exported waste, as well as littered or illegally dumped domestic waste, researchers determined the U.S. was responsible for 2.25 million metric tons of plastic pollution in 2016, the last year for which pollution data is readily available.

Roughly two-thirds of the plastic polluted by the U.S. ends up in coastal environs, according to the new study — making the U.S. the world’s third largest producer of coastal plastic pollution.

Despite accounting for just 4 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. is responsible for 17 percent of the world’s coastal plastic pollution.

“The United States generates the most plastic waste of any other country in the world, but rather than looking the problem in the eye, we have outsourced it to developing countries and become a top contributor to the ocean plastics crisis,” said study co-author Nick Mallos.

“The solution has to start at home. We need to create less, by cutting out unnecessary single-use plastics; we need to create better, by developing innovative new ways to package and deliver goods; and where plastics are inevitable, we need to drastically improve our recycling rates,” said Mallos, senior director of the Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program.

The researchers suggest their findings should serve as a wakeup call for U.S. policy makers and

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Scientists used a 3D printer to create the world’s smallest boat

Using an electron microscope, a team from Leiden University constructed the vessel as part of research into potential designs for vehicles that could travel inside the human body, for example to administer medical treatments.

It is a tiny copy of the “Benchy” boat, a test structure often used to test the effectiveness of 3D printers.

“We focused a laser inside a droplet,” Daniela Kraft, a physicist at the Dutch university told CNN. “If we move the laser through the droplet, we write the structure that we want,” she explained. “For example, if we move it in a helix, we are writing a helix.”

The boat was just one of many structures created by the researchers conducting investigations into microswimmers: small particles that can move through fluids, and be followed by a microscope.

Biological microswimmers are microorganisms that propel themselves, including bacteria, algae and sperm.

Synthetic, self-propelled microswimmers could have a range of uses, including delivering drugs in the human body, Kraft told CNN.

Experts created several shapes, including a spiky sphere, a starship, a spiral, a helix, a trimer and and a 3D Benchy boat.
Researchers conducted the study, published in the Soft Matter journal, to understand how certain shapes of synthetic self-propelled microswimmers affected motion and traction, and better understand the behavior of bacteria. Experts were able to create objects measuring just 4 micrometers. One micrometer is equal to 0.001 mm, or about 0.000039 inch.
'Fireball' meteorite that fell to Earth in 2018 reveals its secrets

“We hope to learn about what is now a good design principle for creating a little drug delivery vehicle — if you have a little particle that goes to a specific part of the body to deliver drugs, then it has to propel itself, and it may have to deal with the environment in your body, which is very complex,” Kraft told CNN.

“What we are trying to answer is: what would be a good design? What would be a great shape so that it can go around and be efficient?”

Kraft told CNN that particles created in a helix shape showed promising movement.

“When it moves forward, often it needs to rotate, and that helps, for example, to speed it up. If you think about applications, if you want to have a little machine that goes somewhere, it might be more useful to have a helix shape, because it swims faster,” she said.

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Infinera Partners with ESnet to Upgrade the World’s Most Advanced Scientific Data Network

U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Sciences Network (ESnet)

Infinera and ESnet
Infinera and ESnet
Infinera and ESnet

SUNNYVALE, Calif., Oct. 27, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Infinera (NASDAQ: INFN) is proud to announce a contract award with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Energy Sciences Network (ESnet) to build the optical substrate for its next-generation science network, ESnet6, interconnecting the DOE’s national laboratory system and experimental facilities with research and commercial networks around the globe. Based on a next-generation hardware and software stack, ESnet6 will provide unparalleled support for global science and pave the way for future advancements in the areas of streaming data analytics, artificial intelligence/machine learning, workflow management, and the integration of compute, storage, and networking capabilities.

The ESnet6 optical network is powered by the Infinera GX Series Compact Modular Platform and FlexILS Open Optical Line System. ESnet’s open optical networking approach combined with Infinera’s GX and FlexILS with coherent 600G technology enables deployment of today’s state-of-the art technology plus future-proofs the network with the ability to seamlessly upgrade to 800G capability once available.

With science data traffic over ESnet doubling every 20 months, Infinera capabilities ensure ESnet can provide 400 Gigabit Ethernet-based services through this open and flexible architecture. Deployed nationwide, the Infinera GX Series and FlexILS Open Optical Line System solutions provide a flexible and scalable foundation with C+L-band capability for further scale at the photonic layer.

“ESnet6 represents a transformational change in the capacity, resiliency, and flexibility and brings tangible benefits to the DOE’s science mission,” said Kate Mace, ESnet6 Project Director. “Open optical networking technology plays a key role in ESnet’s ability to meet the ongoing challenges of data traffic growth while supporting the high-speed and real-time collaboration capabilities that are critical to our nation’s science programs.”
        
As the world’s leading science data network, ESnet connects all of the DOE’s geographically distributed laboratories, experimental facilities, and computing centers across a dedicated fiber optic backbone that stretches across the U.S. and beyond. These capabilities provide the foundation for scientists to move, share, analyze, and store data no matter where in the world the data may be. Partnering with ESnet, Infinera quickly and safely deployed new equipment, performed testing, and turned up services over 15,000 miles of fiber during a global pandemic.

“ESnet was pleased to see Infinera’s team make such fast work of this large installation task during a pandemic. This high-speed connectivity provides the foundation to meet our mission of accelerating scientific discovery,” said Inder Monga, Executive Director of ESnet and Division Director of Scientific Networking at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “ESnet enables tens of thousands of scientists to access data portals, transfer vast research data streams, and tap into remote scientific instruments and sources — all in real time.”

“Infinera is delighted to partner with ESnet to deploy a high-capacity open optical network connecting all the national laboratory locations in the U.S. with high-performance computing locations,” said Nick Walden, Senior Vice President, Sales at Infinera. “This collaboration underscores the value of our relationship and ability

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Scientists capture world’s first 3,200-megapixel photos

Scientists at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory have taken the world’s first 3,200-megapixel digital photos, using an advanced imaging device that’s built to explore the universe.

“We will measure and catalog something like 20 billion galaxies.” said Steven Kahn, director of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile. That’s where the world’s largest digital camera will serve as the centerpiece of a monumental effort to map the night sky. The camera will spend 10 years capturing the most detailed images of the universe ever taken.  

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A head of romanesco broccoli captured at 3,200 megapixels.


SLAC

“Most parts of the night sky have actually never been imaged at all by telescopes.” Kahn said. “No part of the sky has really been imaged with this kind of time, sequencing and time cadence, where you can watch how things change.”

The team working on the camera just completed the focal plane, which is an array of imaging sensors more than two feet wide. (The equivalent focal length on an iPhone 11 camera is 26 millimeters.) It took the team about six months to assemble the sensors, largely because the sensors can easily crack if they touch each other during the installation process.  

focal-plane

The focal plane is made up of 189 individual sensors, divided into groups of nine called rafts.


National Accelerator Laboratory

Since the camera isn’t complete, scientists used a pinhole projector to test the focal plane. They snapped photos of an image of Vera C. Rubin (the late scientist the observatory is named for), the camera team, and a head of romanesco broccoli.

Watch the video above to see how scientists designed and built the focal plane, and to learn more about the mysteries of the universe they hope it can help unlock.  

observatory

The Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile under construction in April.


Rubin Obs/NSF/AURA

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Aliens From These Worlds Could Be Watching Us Right Now

Artist’s impression of an exoplanet located within its star’s habitable zone.

Artist’s impression of an exoplanet located within its star’s habitable zone.
Image: NASA

Since the 1990s, astronomers have catalogued more than 3,000 exoplanets using a fairly basic detection technique known as the transit method. But what if aliens are using the same technique to spy on us? A team of astronomers is now exploring this very exciting—if not totally terrifying—possibility.

The title of the new paper, published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, sums up the purpose of the study rather nicely: “Which stars can see Earth as a transiting exoplanet?” Indeed, astronomers on Earth use the transit method to spot exoplanets, so it stands to reason that alien astronomers might be using the same technique to spot us.

The transit method doesn’t allow astronomers to see an exoplanet directly. Rather, they’re seeing the temporary dimming of a distant star, in a possible sign that an exoplanet is passing in front from our perspective. These sudden drops in luminosity are very slight, but detectable nonetheless. These dimming events can yield other important data as well, allowing astronomers to determine the length of an exoplanet’s year, its temperature, and its chemical properties, the latter of which can be used to discern rocky planets from gas giants. Other detection techniques exist, such as the Doppler method, but the transit method continues to be the most reliable and straightforward.

The number of stars that we can observe through our telescopes seems almost endless, but the transit method means we’re caught in a rather glaring observational selection effect. With the transit technique, we can only spot exoplanets that pass in front of their host stars from our line of sight. Should a world be located a bit higher or lower along the ecliptic plane, well, that would mean we’re out of luck. Still, transits from our perspective happen more often than you might think, as astronomers have found thousands of exoplanets in this way.

Okay, enough exposition about exoplanets and the transit method—let’s return to the new study. Cornell astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger, along with Lehigh astronomer Joshua Pepper, “reverse the viewpoint and ask from which systems other observers could see Earth as a transiting planet,” as they write in their new paper. Using data collected by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), the scientists found 1,004 relatively nearby stars that fit into this category.

By “this category,” the authors are referring to stars in the Earth Transit Zone (ETZ), the “region from which the Earth could be seen transiting the Sun, which is a thin strip around the ecliptic as projected on to the sky with a width of 0.528°,” write the study authors.

For the researchers, it was important to exclude stars farther than around 320 light-years away. At this (relatively) close distance, alien astronomers could still detect the paltry dimming of our Sun as caused by our tiny planet passing in front.

These alien astronomers could also detect a thing or

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NASA Designs Transforming Rover for Exploring Distant Worlds

One of the challenges of exploring distant worlds is the variety of terrains that a vehicle might encounter there. There could be flat planes, which are relatively easy to traverse in a wheeled vehicle, and there could be steep slopes, which are much harder. That’s why NASA is developing a new type of rover that can transform to take a shape most suited to the environment.

The DuAxel rover is made up of two individual rovers with two wheels each, both called Axel. Together, the four-wheeled rover can travel across rugged terrain and drive across considerable distances. But when it approaches difficult terrain, the two Axels can split apart, with the rear one staying in place while the front one moves forward on a single axel. The two remain connected by a tether, and the front half can investigate hard-to-reach objects by rappelling down slopes while staying safely connected to its back half.

Terrain The DuAxel rover is seen here participating in field tests in the Mojave Desert. The four-wheeled rover is composed of two Axel robots. One part anchors itself in place while the other uses a tether to explore otherwise inaccessible terrain.
The DuAxel rover is seen here participating in field tests in the Mojave Desert. The four-wheeled rover is composed of two Axel robots. One part anchors itself in place while the other uses a tether to explore otherwise inaccessible terrain. NASA/JPL-Caltech/J.D. Gammell

To find out if the concept worked as well in practice as it does in theory, NASA engineers took a sample of the rover to the Mojave Desert in California and put it through a series of tests that simulated the kinds of challenges a rover might encounter on another planet.

The rover aced its tests, according to Issa Nesnas, a robotics technologist at JPL: “DuAxel performed extremely well in the field, successfully demonstrating its ability to approach a challenging terrain, anchor, and then undock its tethered Axel rover. Axel then autonomously maneuvered down steep and rocky slopes, deploying its instruments without the necessity of a robotic arm.”

With the rover able to split in this way, NASA says it could allow the exploration of features like crater walls, pits, scarps, vents, and other extreme terrains on distant worlds. It’s possible that in the future, multiple Axel robots could be combined together in a modular system to haul heavy payloads, or one robot could replace another if it failed mid-mission.

“DuAxel opens up access to more extreme terrain on planetary bodies such as the moon, Mars, Mercury, and possibly some icy worlds, like Jupiter’s moon Europa,” Nesnas said.

For now, the team will continue refining DuAxel and wait for it to be assigned a destination to explore in the future.

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Why there is hope that the world’s coral reefs can be saved

For most of us, the colourful, otherworldly marinescapes of coral reefs are as remote as the alien landscapes of the moon. We rarely, if ever, experience these underwater wonderlands for ourselves – we are, after all, air-breathing, terrestrial creatures mostly cocooned in cities. It is easy, therefore, not to notice the perilous state they’re in: we’ve lost 50% of coral reefs in the past 20 years; more than 90% are expected to die by 2050 according to a presentation at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego, California earlier this year. As the oceans heat further and turn more acidic, owing to rising carbon dioxide emissions, coral reefs are tipped to become the world’s first ecosystems to become extinct because of us.

Just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean we won’t miss them. For, as we are belatedly discovering, the nice, dry human world that we’ve made for ourselves is dependent on the planet’s natural systems and coral reefs are no exception. They protect our coastlands from erosion, they are the nurseries for the fish we eat and they harbour the plankton that produce the oxygen we breathe. Globally, coral reefs support a quarter of all marine life and the livelihoods of a billion people.

Coral reefs are ancient and highly adaptable – they first emerged nearly 500 million years ago; those corals went extinct, and the corals that we have now first appeared 240 million years ago. The difference now is the extreme pace of change. Coral is slow growing and a reef takes about 10 years to recover fully after a single bleaching event. By 2049, we are expecting annual bleaching events in the tropics, pushing reefs beyond recovery. It’s a grim prospect and one of the reasons that in 2015 the world’s nations pledged to limit global warming to 1.5C above preindustrial levels, a temperature that would enable coral reefs to survive. It remains far from clear whether we will meet this goal.

However, while we still have reefs, we still have hope. Some will do better than others – some already are – and scientists are trying to work out why in a bid to build resilience elsewhere. As with climate change, human activity is implicated. For instance, studies show that reefs are more likely to recover from a heating event if they are protected from other stresses, such as overfishing, pollution from agriculture and boat damage.



a colorful fish: Overfishing can also affect reefs; species such as parrotfish graze on coral-damaging algae. Photograph: Ute Niemann/Alamy


© Provided by The Guardian
Overfishing can also affect reefs; species such as parrotfish graze on coral-damaging algae. Photograph: Ute Niemann/Alamy

With the future of the world’s ecological and human systems now so deeply interconnected, a new movement in reef conservation is putting social systems at its heart and explicitly building resilience into human and ecological systems in tandem. In other words, protecting nature means protecting people. The Coral Reef Alliance, for instance, is working with reef-dependent fishing communities in Honduras. Overfishing hits reefs in a number of ways, including by removing herbivores, such as parrotfish, whose

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Scientists throw lifeline to world’s rarest primate

Hainan gibbons — the rarest primates on Earth — were already teetering on the edge of extinction in 2014 when the most powerful storm to lash China’s coast in half a century ravaged their island oasis.

Decades of economic development, along with logging and deforestation, had reduced their habitat by more than half. 

What primary forest remained was also fragmented, further hemming in the tailless apes, which travel exclusively above ground.

But the massive mudslides unleashed by super typhoon Rammasun made things worse, gouging 15-metre wide gullies into the mountainous forest and effectively cutting off their treetop highways.

“Canopy connectivity is critical for gibbons as they are strictly arboreal,” lead author Bosco Pui Lok Chan, head of the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden in Hong Kong’s New Territories, told AFP.

“Forest fragmentation thus presents a major conservation challenge for gibbons.”

It not only limits their ability to forage for food, it can interfere with the search for a mate and make them more vulnerable to predators.

– Light-bulb moment –

After the typhoon, Chan and his colleagues noticed while monitoring the gibbons — only a few dozen of which remain in the wilds of China’s Hainan Island — that they had trouble crossing these new gaps in the forest. 

And when they did, “they took very risky routes involving a lot of long jumps and high falls among the few surviving trees,” he said.

Then Chan had a light-bulb moment.

“We constructed a two-pronged canopy rope bridge across the damaged arboreal highway,” he said.

The “bridge” consisted of two parallel ropes tied at either end to trees.

The conservationists also set up motion cameras to record any movement on or across the ropes.

The group of nine gibbons most affected by this particular gash in the forest didn’t avail themselves of the lifeline right away.

Indeed, only 176 days later did the cameras capture the first image of a gibbon on the ropes.

After that first crossing, however, others quickly followed suit. 

– Duets at dawn –

Some strode across the mountaineering-grade ropes like tight-rope walkers, while others moved underneath, swinging arm to arm. 

Gibbons moving across a forest canopy have been clocked at over 50 kilometres (30 miles) an hour using this method.

Another favoured technique was walking across one rope, while holding on to the second one overhead.

Over the 470 days of monitoring, the researchers collected more than 200 pictures and 50 videos of the acrobatic apes in action.

Chan described the rope bridges as a “short-term solution”. 

“Reforestation with native tree species should be the priority for restoring forest connectivity,” he said.

But his stop-gap measure still has “significant conservation implications for other gibbon species,” he added.

There are 20 identified gibbon species, all in Asia. Most are either “endangered” or “critically endangered” — the last step before “extinct in the wild” — on the IUCN’s Red List of endangered species. 

The Hainan gibbon — Nomascus hainanus — is endemic to the Chinese island,

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Scientists offer lifeline for world’s rarest primate

The Hainan gibbons population was estimated at 2,000 individuals in the 1950s, but during the 1970s their numbers plunged to sin
The Hainan gibbons population was estimated at 2,000 individuals in the 1950s, but during the 1970s their numbers plunged to singe digits

The Hainan gibbon—the rarest primate on Earth—was already teetering on the edge of extinction in 2014 when the most powerful storm to lash China’s coast in half a century ravaged their island oasis.


Decades of economic development, along with logging and deforestation, had reduced their habitat by more than half.

What primary forest remained was also fragmented, further hemming in the tailless apes, which travel exclusively above ground.

But the massive mudslides unleashed by super typhoon Rammasun made things worse, gouging 15-metre wide gullies into the mountainous forest and effectively cutting off their treetop highways.

“Canopy connectivity is critical for gibbons as they are strictly arboreal,” lead author Bosco Pui Lok Chan, head of the Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden in Hong Kong’s New Territories, told AFP.

“Forest fragmentation thus presents a major conservation challenge for gibbons.”

After the typhoon, Chan and his team—charged with protecting the gibbons, only a few dozen of which remain in the wild—saw that they had trouble crossing these new gaps in the forest.

And when they did, “they took very risky routes involving a lot of long jumps and high falls among the few surviving trees,” he said.

Some Hainan gibbons strode across the mountaineering-grade ropes like tight-rope walkers, while others moved underneath, swingin
Some Hainan gibbons strode across the mountaineering-grade ropes like tight-rope walkers, while others moved underneath, swinging arm to arm

Then Chan had a light-bulb moment.

“We constructed a two-pronged canopy rope bridge across the damaged arboreal highway,” he said.

The “bridge” consisted of two parallel ropes tied at either end to trees.

The conservationists also set up motion cameras to record any movement on or across the ropes.

The group of nine gibbons most affected by this particular gash in the forest didn’t avail themselves of the lifeline right away.

Indeed, only 176 days later did the cameras capture the first image of a gibbon on the ropes.

After that first crossing, however, others quickly followed suit.

Duets at dawn

Some strode across the mountaineering-grade ropes like tight-rope walkers, while others moved underneath, swinging arm to arm.

Gibbons moving across a forest canopy have been clocked at over 50 kilometres (30 miles) an hour using this method.

There are 20 identified gibbon species across Asia. Most are either "endangered" or "critically endangered"
There are 20 identified gibbon species across Asia. Most are either “endangered” or “critically endangered”

Another favoured technique was walking across one rope, while holding on to the second one overhead.

Over the 470 days of monitoring, the researchers collected more than 200 pictures and 50 videos of the acrobatic apes in action.

Chan described the rope bridges as a “short-term solution”.

“Reforestation with native tree species should be the priority for restoring forest connectivity,” he said.

But his stop-gap measure still has “significant conservation implications for other gibbon species,” he added.

There are 20 identified gibbon species, all in Asia. Most are either “endangered” or “critically endangered”—the last step before “extinct in the wild”—on the IUCN’s Red List of endangered species.

The Hainan gibbon—Nomascus hainanus—is endemic

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