Science for Environment Policy Latest Alert news feed
Updated: 2 hours 13 min ago
A new review of the potential uses of visual soil evaluation (VSE) shows how this tool can be used to indicate risks of erosion, compaction, greenhouse gas emission or storage and surface-water run-off. Assessing soils in this way is not only useful for agriculture, but has implications for the wider environment, due to the vital role that soil plays in the provision of ecosystem services, for example as a habitat for biodiversity and as a carbon sink.
Implementation of innovative, resource-efficient urban water systems depends on wide-ranging cooperation
New technology that makes energy capture from waste water and re-use of grey water possible can contribute to energy- and resource efficiency — but the widespread application of such technology requires a new, collaborative approach, shows a new study. Taking radical innovation in urban water systems beyond the pilot stage will require cooperation between a variety of stakeholders, suggest the findings of expert interviews and workshops.
Results from a long-term study of fish communities in the Bay of Somme in the English Channel show that numbers of cold-water fish, such as dab and plaice, have been dropping since 1998, as sea temperatures have risen. The researchers say this is evidence of ‘tropicalisation’ in an English-Channel ecosystem. The findings may have implications for conservation policies in the Bay, which is a Marine Protected Area1 designated under the Natura 2000 programme, as well as other marine sites affected by warming.
Biological control agents are an environmentally-friendly way of controlling pests and diseases on crops and are advocated in the EU’s Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive1. The authors of a new review of the current state of biological control refer to a recent UN report2 which states that it is possible to produce enough food to feed a world population of nine billion with substantially less chemical pesticides — and even without these pesticides if sufficient effort is made to develop biocontrol-based Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods. The study suggests that policy measures can speed up the development and use of environmentally-friendly crop protection.
The measures available to reduce the noise and vibration produced by trains have been outlined in a recent study. The researchers say the most appropriate mitigation should be determined on a case-by-case basis and life-cycle assessments can help analyse the economic costs and carbon footprint of different methods.
European policy permits the application of nutrient-rich sewage sludge on agricultural land as a means of recycling1. However, contamination of sludge with microplastics may pose a risk to ecosystems. This study looked at the characteristics of microplastics in sewage sludge after three types of waste-water treatment, finding that anaerobic digestion should be explored as a method of microplastic reduction.
Separate waste-water treatment of urine could have lower environmental impact than centralised, combined waste-water treatment
Municipal wastewater is a major source of pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment. Results from a recent study suggest that collecting and treating urine separately from other forms of sewage could be a cost-effective way to reduce the harmful effects of pharmaceuticals on the environment, while also providing a source of nutrients for fertilising agricultural crops.
Researchers have developed a straightforward approach to help small to medium enterprises (SMEs) analyse their energy use and increase efficiency. They tested the methodology on 280 businesses in Europe, which, as a result, invested more than €10m in energy-saving measures. The measures reduced energy use by 6 500 toe (tonnes of oil equivalent) per year and avoided 13 500 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
Traces of animals’ DNA in the environment, known as environmental DNA (eDNA), can be monitored to paint a picture of biodiversity, new research shows. This study used eDNA to assess biodiversity in an entire river catchment in Switzerland. Importantly, the eDNA technique allowed the researchers to detect both aquatic and land-based species in river water, making it possible to assess biodiversity over a broad scale.
Combinations of antibiotics used in veterinary medicine could harm the growth of algal communities when they pass into water bodies from treated livestock, according to recent European research. Algae play vital roles in ecosystems by cycling nutrients and producing energy from photosynthesis; veterinary use of antibiotics should, therefore, be monitored in the environment, including for any biological impacts on algal species, the study recommends.
Recycled waste material could play a major role in the construction of roads in Europe, bringing both environmental and economic benefits. A new study proposes a scenario where 50% of the asphalt for Europe’s roads consists of recycled materials, leading to significant reductions in costs, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
Oilseed rape genes transfer from inside to outside of crop fields: study could aid GM risk assessment
This study is one of few to assess the genetic diversity of crops in an agroecosystem over several years. Researchers analysed the genetic makeup of oilseed rape plants within and outside crop fields over four years. They found similarity between cultivars of field plants in one year and those of feral plants (unplanted) in the following year. They also found persistence of the cultivars within the feral plants, which suggests that feral populations with genetically modified (GM) traits might result from persistent GM traits within field seed banks. The researchers say their findings could aid impact assessments of GM crops.
Mercury is a heavy metal that is well known for being the only metal that is liquid at room temperature and normal pressure. It is also a potent neurotoxin with severe global human health impacts. It can be converted from one form to another by natural processes, and, once released, actively cycles in the environment for hundreds to thousands of years before being buried in sediment. This In-Depth Report from Science for Environment Policy summarises the latest scientific studies and research results on mercury pollution in the global environment.
Researchers have developed a new metric to predict the ecological impacts of invasive alien species. The metric was calculated for a number of known invasive alien species and successfully predicted their impact on native species. The tool could be used to help inform the global management of invasive alien species.
A 50% renewable-energy supply, which is both profitable and secure, is possible for the UK’s electricity grid by just 2030 according to a new study. The researchers developed a plan for adapting and operating the UK’s electricity grid, designed to be flexibly controlled through smart-grid technology and to overcome uncertainties in renewable-energy supply and demand.
A new study has mapped levels of chemical elements found in European agricultural soils. In most places, unusually high concentrations are linked to geology, such as high levels of arsenic in the Massif Central in France. Human activity is to blame in some small areas, for example high concentrations of mercury were found near London and Paris. Abnormal concentrations, both too low and too high, could pose an environmental risk. This new data can be used in conjunction with the REACH Regulation1 and can help identify areas where action may be needed in relation to toxic elements in the environment.
Renewable-energy technologies can help meet the increased cooling demand in cities due to climate change
The available and emerging renewable technologies suitable for urban environments have been assessed in a recent study. Wind and solar technology can now be integrated into building design, and smart grids and metering can more efficiently manage energy production and demand at a local level. Investing in community-level renewable-energy projects can, therefore, help meet the future energy needs of towns and cities.
Judging whether to replace a hazardous conventional chemical in a product with a nanomaterial — i.e. to assess which is the safer alternative — is challenging for many reasons. A new study suggests that chemical-alternative assessment frameworks could be adapted to better assess engineered nanomaterials with the help of new tools which provide data on hazards of, and exposure to, nanomaterials.
The factors enabling eco-innovation have been analysed across 19 European countries in a new study. Regulations and environmental subsidies were found to be more important factors in Eastern Europe than in wealthier Western European countries. External research and development (R&D) was also more relevant in Eastern Europe, demonstrating the need for specific technology transfers from other countries and competitors.
Researchers have developed a new indicator for policymakers, which shows the strength of renewable-energy technologies for electricity production in a country’s energy security. They compare their Renewable Energy Security Index (RESI) to the carbon footprint, in that it is easy to report and practical to use in energy policy.