The Art of Sustainable Living

My grandmother passed away a few years ago. She had few possessions: only one suitcase full of clothes and a cabinet of dishes.

I thought about how many possessions I had and came to the shocking realization that all my stuff would fill at least five large suitcases. That is when I thought: How many things do I actually use on a daily basis from all the stuff I have? I struggled to think of more than ten items, yet my home is filled to the brim with all kinds of paraphernalia. I felt rather disturbed and guilty when I realized I’ve been hoarding so much stuff for all these years without actually using it.

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Rising Ocean Acidity Weakens Hunting Ability in Sharks

Sharks, the ocean’s top predators, renowned for their impressive hunting abilities, rely extensively on their keen sense of smell to hunt prey located miles away—earning themselves the label “swimming noses.” But a new study reveals that high levels of seawater acidity expected due to climate change can diminish their ability to track prey through sensing of odors.

The smooth dogfish, a shark whose range includes the Atlantic Ocean off the eastern United States, could lose their ability to sense the smell of food if climate change if ocean acidification continues its current pace.  Credit: Danielle Dixson/Georgia Tech

The smooth dogfish, a shark whose range includes the Atlantic Ocean off the eastern United States, could lose their ability to sense the smell of food due to ocean acidification if climate change continues at its current pace.
Credit: Danielle Dixson/Georgia Tech

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Developing Countries to Become Major Climate Change Contributors by 2030—Later Than Previous Estimates

Developed nations have dominated global surface temperature change historically, and according to a new study, they will continue to do so until 2030, when developing nations, particularly the two population giants—China and India—will overtake them. 

“This is significant,” said lead author Daniel Ward, a postdoctoral researcher from Cornell University, because most human-induced “climate change will come from developed countries until about the year 2030, whereas previous estimates put this ‘crossover’ year at 2020 or earlier.” 

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Only a Fraction of Cauliflower Coral Larvae May Tolerate Ocean Conditions in 2100

Coral reefs are undoubtedly the treasures of our oceans. Every month during the new moon, cauliflower corals found thriving in the shallow waters of the Indian and Pacific oceans, release larvae that migrate through currents and swim to faraway locations for settlement. Swimming requires large amounts of energy reflected in high metabolic rates among larvae. But few survive this journey fraught with danger; they are at risk of predation and vulnerable to dynamic ocean environments. Adding to their woes, climate change may render our oceans warmer and more acidic by the of the century. How will cauliflower coral larvae respond to these environmental changes? A study suggests that only a fraction may possess the ability to adapt and persist.

Pocillopora sp. Photo credit: wildsingapore via photopin cc

Pocillopora sp.
Photo credit: wildsingapore via photopin cc

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Tropical Rainforest Conservation: How to Identify Priority Areas

Tropical rain forests exhibit an enormous concentration of species diversity: Occupying only 6 percent of the earth’s surface, they are home to almost two-thirds of all species on earth, many of which are endemic or found only in the forests. In addition to providing food and absorbing carbon dioxide, they house many undiscovered life-saving medicinal compounds. And with the alarming rate of deforestation, they may tragically disappear in a hundred yearsObviously, preserving tropical rain forests has become paramount. But conservation management officials are faced with numerous challenges in decision making: Which areas of a tropical forest to conserve? Which parts contain the highest species diversity? And which areas should receive priority in conservation?

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Older Trees Highly Effective at Removing Atmospheric Carbon

The older they are, the better they get. This is true not only for wines but also for trees, at least when it comes to their ability to remove carbon from the air. Until now, most scientists believed that the growth of trees slows down as they age but a new study published in Nature finds just the opposite. Researchers recently discovered that the growth rate of trees increases continuously with age.

photo credit: Vainsang via photopin cc

Photo credit: Vainsang via photopin cc

A group of researchers conducted a large-scale study in which they measured the diameters of 403 tropical and temperate tree species worldwide, totaling two-thirds of a million trees, to estimate their biomass growth rate.

They found that although the total productivity of a forest declines as trees age, older trees continue to grow and actively fix carbon from the atmosphere. In fact, just one massive tree can accumulate same amount of carbon in a year as that contained in a middle sized tree. However, a large number of young trees may offset the carbon removed by a few large trees.

Since larger trees are more potent at sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, they can have a huge impact in mitigating climate change. Thus, saving older growth forests – which are declining at an alarming rate particularly in Southeast Asia – should be the focus of conservation efforts.

Planting trees helps but so does saving the larger trees.

Stephenson, N.L., Das, A.J., Condit, R., Russo, S.E., Baker, P.J., Bechman N.G., Coomes, D.A.,…Zavala, M.A. (2014). Rate of tree carbon accumulation increases continuously with tree size. Nature. Published online 15 January 2014. DOI:10.1038/nature12914.

Dengue Cases in Mexico Projected to Escalate with Climate Change

We’ve all heard that climate change is affecting our environment in a myriad of ways. But what is the impact on mosquito-borne diseases that afflict tropical and subtropical countries such as dengue fever? In the first long-term study, a research group found that temperature, rainfall, and access to piped water affect dengue incidence in Mexico and they predict that with climate change cases will climb up to 40 percent by 2080.

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