The move towards smart mobility systems in cities across Italy, specifically in relation to public transport systems (including cycle infrastructure, and cycle and car-sharing schemes) has been assessed in a new study. The researchers say significant progress has been made in light of new guidelines imposed by the European Union, which is often linked to financial investment, as well as the capacity of city planners to implement changes.
Researchers have developed a new model that highlights how agricultural practices impact on water availability in the wider landscape. The model, AquaCrop-Hydro, could be used to inform agricultural management decisions and policy related to water and land use, to ensure best allocation of water resources. Such tools are not only useful currently, but will be especially important in future in areas where climate change impacts on water availability and affects crop productivity.
A technique called reflectance spectroscopy is the subject of a new literature review focusing on the use of this tool to study the effects of air pollution on vegetation. In particular, the researchers suggest that the technique could be more widely applied in the Mediterranean region, to study the effects of climate change and air pollution, which will be detrimental to crop growth as well as other vegetation. It could also be used as a more general biomonitoring technique for assessing pollutant levels in the environment.
New research has shown that flooding of soils contaminated with arsenic, which may occur as sea levels rise due to climate change, could lead to the mobilisation of this toxic element in the environment. The study shows that arsenic is more stable in soil flooded with saltwater, compared to river water, as salt stabilises mineral oxides and could inhibit microbial activity. However, microbes that transform arsenic into water-soluble forms may adapt to saline conditions, and the risk of arsenic entering waters due to rising sea levels should receive further attention.
An inventory of carbon footprints has been developed for 177 regions across 27 EU Member States. The map is the first to quantify greenhouse gas emissions associated with household consumption across the EU. It reveals significant regional differences based on income, household size and urban versus rural living.
New tools for improved river assessment and monitoring are likely to inform future management strategies
Sustainable river management is increasingly informed by hydromorphological stream assessments — evaluations and classifications of stream conditions which account for both hydrological (the movement, distribution and quantity of water) and geomorphological (the processes and forms deriving from the interactions of water and sediment movement) features. In order to provide a more accurate and comprehensive assessment of river character and dynamics, scientists have developed three novel methods. Together, these tools represent a promising technique for conducting collaborative assessment and monitoring of river conditions in Europe.
An investigation into the attitudes of Canadian soil-remediation experts has shown that they tend to prefer conventional remediation methods over phytoremediation — which relies on plants to clean soils — despite evidence that the latter can have advantages. The researchers behind the study highlight that this ‘status-quo bias’ poses a barrier to the uptake of novel technologies such as phytoremediation, and that scientists may need to find different ways of disseminating evidence to increase the use of new techniques among practitioners.
A new study aimed at increasing knowledge of indoor air quality (IAQ) in recently built or refurbished office buildings has found that levels of pollutants are mostly within World Health Organization (WHO) air-quality guidelines, however they vary between seasons. In addition, some levels of particulate matter were found to exceed WHO guideline values. The OFFICAIR project was funded by the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme.
Researchers in Spain have analysed waste water to calculate levels of exposure to phthalates in individuals. The calculations showed that levels of four types of phthalate exceeded safe daily limits in some of the sites studied, with levels of exposure in children being of particular concern. Using the results of waste-water analysis in this way can identify areas where action may need to be taken to lower exposure.
The majority of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) identified until now are banned or restricted around the world owing to concerns about their harm to ecosystems and human health. However, this is not the end of the story; even long-banned POPs still linger in the environment; others are still in use and are being directly emitted; and new POPs may be identified for which we have limited information. This Future Brief from Science for Environment Policy presents recent research into POPs’ potential impacts, the levels and future outlook for POPs in the environment and humans, and how we can reduce our use of POPs.
The removal of arsenic from water using a brown seaweed (Sargassum muticum), coated with iron hydroxide, has been tested in a recent study. Under optimal pH conditions, the method removed 100% of the arsenic, indicating the viability of this method for treating contaminated water.
Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: nature conservation and climate policy are mutually beneficial (Germany)
A new study has assessed the value of ecosystem-based approaches to mitigating climate changes and conserving biodiversity in Germany. The researchers highlight the trade-offs and synergies between climate adaptation and nature conservation and suggest that effective ecosystem-based climate policy requires improved coordination between different sectors, such as agriculture, forestry and energy.
Researchers have pinpointed hotspots for birds in an agricultural region of Italy. These show that hotspots for wintering birds are different to those for breeding birds — yet it is often only breeding birds’ locations that are considered in the design of protected areas. The researchers say their research highlights the importance of crop-dominated land for birds in the Mediterranean region.
A new study shows that run-off from de-icing road salts can affect freshwater aquatic ecosystems by increasing certain types of plankton. The study is the first to compare effects of the most popular road salt, sodium chloride, with the effects of alternative salts and additives used to increase de-icing efficiency. Based on their findings, the researchers recommend that magnesium chloride and salt additives are used cautiously near water bodies.
One of the greatest challenges facing today’s environmental policymakers is how to deal with complex risks, such as those associated with climate change. These risks are difficult to deal with because they are not precisely calculable in advance. Where there is scientific uncertainty about the full extent of possible harms but ‘doing nothing’ is also risky, decision-makers may use the precautionary principle. This Future Brief explores the role of the precautionary principle in EU law and policy, and examines key points of discussion drawn from the evidence.
The phrase ‘emerging risk’ has been widely used in scientific and business communities, but without consensus on how to define and govern such a risk. A new study proposes that risk emergence goes through four states, from ‘unknown unknowns’ to risks that are fully in the public domain. Understanding emergence as a process can help decision makers detect and manage risks on the basis of scientific evidence.
Closed-loop recycling of photovoltaic panel materials could mitigate up to 0.2% of Flanders’ annual environmental impact
The development of future recycling technologies must be informed by data about products and materials that will enter the waste stream, but such forecasts are subject to a high level of uncertainty. In this study, researchers have proposed a methodology for predicting emerging waste materials, applying it to silicon-based photovoltaic (PV) panels. The findings show that closed-loop recycling — when post-consumer waste is recycled to make new products — of PV panel materials could mitigate up to 0.2% of the annual environmental impact of Flanders1, Belgium, if suitable technology was developed.
Researchers have analysed the ability of two organic nanomaterials to remove the heavy metal chromium from water. In the laboratory, the nanomaterials successfully took up around 95% of the chromium. Further work is needed to confirm the feasibility of using these nanomaterials to purify water in real-world conditions.
The pathways for removal of dissolved phosphorus within biofiltration systems have been examined in a new study. Over 95% of phosphorus was removed over the study period, with the majority of phosphorus stored within plants. The researchers say the findings demonstrate the value of using suitable plant species within biofiltration systems to treat polluted water.
Engineering at the nanoscale brings the promise of radical technological development — clean energy, highly effective medicines and space travel. But technology at this scale also brings safety challenges. Nano-sized particles are not inherently more toxic than larger particles, but the effects are complex and vary based on particle properties as well as chemical toxicity. This Report brings together the latest science on environmental safety considerations specific to manufactured nanoscale materials, and some possible implications for policy and research.