Mark Twain once remarked the world is divided between two types of people: those who have seen the Taj Mahal and those who have not. The Taj is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world and the image most associated with India.
India has experienced exponential industrial growth in recent years. Environmental pollution spurred by industry and automobiles has long been observed to be progressively destroying the Taj Mahal’s white marble surface. Pollution is yellowing the Taj Mahal – but scientists are treating it with something called Fuller’s Earth.
Dive Downbelow, Richard Swann. Photo credit: Project AWARE Foundation
Many of us know about the staggering levels of ocean pollution, but not all of us have seen a giant sponge sliced through by fishing line or have tugged back armfuls of trash lurking deep underwater.
Now, through a striking photo campaign, Beneath The Waves, from the Project AWARE Foundation—a global community of scuba divers who are working toward trash-free oceans—we get to see how our oceans are treated like trash dumps up close and personal, and why action must be taken immediately.
For the past month, divers from around the world have been uploading photos of marine debris onto Twitter, Instagram and Project AWARE’s website to bring attention and urge for solutions to this transnational issue.
Grey Whale … almost got free. Photo credit: Project AWARE Foundation
Why scuba divers? Well, few people know the scourge of ocean pollution better than they do.
“We’re citizen scientists, educators, philanthropists and advocates. We’re united together under a common passion, respect and desire to protect our ocean,” Project AWARE said in a statement from the campaign.
“Divers see firsthand the devastating impact rubbish can cause on ocean wildlife,” the foundation continued. “With more than 1 in 10 species affected by marine debris threatened with extinction, our actions to protect are more urgently needed than ever before.”
Juvenile Green turtle found in a ghost net on a beach, Alphonse Island, Seychelles. Photo credit: Project AWARE Foundation
Dead Green turtle, caught in the netting of a Fish Aggregating Device (FAD), Alphonse Island, Seychelles. Photo credit: Project AWARE Foundation
In the photos below, divers share their unique and haunting view of underwater life affected by pollution. Some of the most devastating photos are of marine life such as whales, rays and crabs trapped in discarded fishing line, bottles and other debris.
“Earlier studies put China’s annual air pollution death toll at one to two million, but this is the first to use newly released Chinese air monitoring figures,” says South China Morning Post. The authors of the study are members of Berkeley Earth, an independent nonprofit devoted to “expanding scientific investigations, educating and communicating about climate change, and evaluating mitigation efforts in developing and developed economies.”
Though pollution in China’s northeast corridor running from Beijing to Shanghai is “particularly intense,” the problem is widespread.
Consistent with prior findings, the greatest pollution occurs in the east, but significant levels are widespread across northern and central China and are not limited to major cities or geologic basins,” said researchers.
They found that during a four month period from April to August 2014, 92 percent of the population experienced more than 120 hours of “unhealthy air” based on the standards of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And 38 percent experienced long-term average concentrations that were unhealthy.
“[The] map provides near real-time information on particulate matter air pollution less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5),” researchers said. PM2.5 is microscopic particulate matter that is small enough to “lodge deep inside a person’s lungs and cause health problems in the long term,” says South China Morning Post. “Under typical conditions, PM2.5 is the most damaging form of air pollution likely to be present, contributing to heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, respiratory infections and other diseases,” say the researchers.
Today, the map shows the areas around Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Nantong, Nanjing, Yichang, Luzhou, QíngdaoandLaiwu as having “unhealthy” air quality. Large portions of the map fall under the category of “unhealthy for sensitive groups” and the vast majority of the mapped area falls under the “moderate” health category. Only a very few small areas fall under the category of “good.” The most unsafe air quality index (180.9) can be found near the city of Yichang, a major economic hub for the region. Its PM2.5 air pollution concentration is 113.4.
To put China’s air pollution problem in perspective, look at Madera, California. The American Lung Association lists Madera’s air pollution as the worst in the country. And yet, “99.9 percent of the eastern half of China has a higher annual average for small particle haze than Madera,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Robert Rohde. “In other words, nearly everyone in China experiences air that is worse for particulates than the worst air in the U.S.”
Earlier this year, a documentary exposing China’s abysmal air quality went viral within days of its release. The film was hailed by some government officials, but was ultimately banned by the state.
A member of the Norwegian-American Scientific Traverse of East Antarctica, which collected some of the ice cores used in a study that shows lead pollution reached Antarctica in the late 19th century, drills a shallow firn (compacted snow) core. Image Credit: Stein Tronstad/Norwegian Polar Institute
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first man to reach the South Pole in December 1911. More than 100 years later, an international team of scientists that includes a NASA researcher has proven that air pollution from industrial activities arrived to the planet’s southern pole long before any human.
Using data from 16 ice cores collected from widely spaced locations around the Antarctic continent, including the South Pole, a group led by Joe McConnell of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, Nevada, created the most accurate and precise reconstruction to date of lead pollution over Earth’s southernmost continent. The new record, described in an article published today in the online edition of the Nature Publishing Group’s journal Scientific Reports, spans a 410-year period from 1600 to 2010.
“Our new record shows the dramatic impact of industrial activities such as smelting, mining and fossil fuel burning on even the most remote parts of the world,” McConnell said.
Composite ice core records of lead in Antarctica from 1600 to 2010. The areas shaded in blue and red indicate when lead values were below or above the 410-year average, respectively, highlighting the dramatic change before and after industrialization in the Southern Hemisphere. Image Credit: Desert Research Institute
“It is very clear that industrial lead contamination was pervasive throughout Antarctica by the late 19th century, more than two decades before the first explorers made it to the South Pole,” he added. “The idea that Amundsen and Scott were traveling over snow that clearly was contaminated by lead from smelting and mining in Australia, and that lead pollution at that time was nearly as high as any time ever since, is surprising to say the least.”
This study included ice cores collected as part of projects funded by the National Science Foundation. Additional ice cores were contributed to the study by international collaborators including the British Antarctic Survey, the Australian Antarctic Division and the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany.
“The ice cores obtained through international collaborations were critical to the success of this study in that they allowed us to develop records from parts of Antarctica not often visited by U.S.-based scientists,” said co-author Tom Neumann of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who participated in a Norway-U.S. traverse that collected several of the cores used in this study. “This included the Law Dome region of East Antarctica and a big section of East Antarctica visited by the Norwegian-United States Scientific Traverse of East Antarctica.”
All measurements of lead and other chemicals used in this study were made using DRI’s continuous ice core analytical system. Low background atmospheric concentrations, together with well-known and often distinct isotopic characteristics (variants of lead with different atomic weights) of industrial sources make lead an ideal tracer of industrial pollution.
“Lead is a toxic heavy metal with strong potential to harm ecosystems,” said co-author Paul Vallelonga of the University of Copenhagen. “While concentrations measured in Antarctic ice cores are very low, the records show that atmospheric concentrations and deposition rates increased approximately six-fold in the late 1880s, coincident with the start of mining at Broken Hill in southern Australia and smelting at nearby Port Pirie.”
The similar timing and magnitude of changes in lead deposition across Antarctica, as well as the characteristic isotopic signature of Broken Hill lead found throughout the continent, suggest that this single emission source in southern Australia was responsible for the introduction of lead pollution into Antarctica at the end of the 19th century and remains a significant source today, the authors report.Data from the new ice core array illustrates that Antarctic lead concentrations reached a peak in 1900 and remained high until the late 1920s, with brief declines during the Great Depression and the end of World War II. Concentrations then increased rapidly until 1975 and remained elevated until the 1990s.
Concentrations across the Antarctic continent have since declined, but still are about four-fold higher than before industrialization, despite the phase out of leaded gasoline and other mitigation efforts in many countries in the Southern Hemisphere, the report states.
“Our measurements indicate that approximately 660 tonnes [1.5 million pounds] of industrial lead have been deposited on the snow-covered surface of Antarctic during the past 130 years,” McConnell said. “While recent contamination levels are lower, clearly detectable industrial contamination of the Antarctic continent persists today, so we still have a ways to go.”