International Headlines: Science and the Environment


India Is Home to The World's First Completely Solar-Powered AirportAugust 19, 2015 The Huffington Post India’s fourth-largest airport, Cochin International Airport, announced that it is now absolutely energy neutral. The airport’s energy neutrality is possible thanks to a 12-megawatt solar-powered system consisting of more than 46,000 panels installed on a 50-acre site which can generate up to 60,000 units of electricity daily. The project took six months to build and cost $10 million, which the airport anticipates it will recover within five years. The panels are expected to last 25 years. The project has been seen as a model for the rest of India, and the government is urging other airports to follow suit. India has a broader goal to derive 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2022, with 3 percent coming exclusively from solar. Earlier this summer, the government rolled out new incentives to encourage developers to turn to renewable energy.

Climate Changes Profound Impact on Marine Biodiversity August 24, 2015 Science Daily New research into the impact of climate change has found that warming oceans will cause profound changes in the global distribution of marine biodiversity. The study found that a rapidly warming climate would cause many species to expand into new regions, which would impact on native species, while others with restricted ranges, particularly those around the tropics, are more likely to face extinction. Co-author, Professor Pandolfi from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at the University of Queensland, warns the resultant novel combinations of resident and migrant species will present unprecedented challenges for conservation planning. "Above all, this study shows the broad geographic connections of the effects of climate change -- conservation efforts need to be facilitated by cooperation among countries to have any real chance of combating the potentially severe biodiversity losses that a changing climate might impose."

Genetically Modified Trees are Being “Strangled” by Red Tape August 21, 2015 BBC Genetically modified trees were developed in the 1980s amid hopes that the technology could tackle pest infestation problems. It was also hoped that new fast-growing strains would be developed that would be attractive for commercial companies. Researchers argue that there is too much concern over methods of genetic engineering and not enough focus on the potential problems that it solves, but green groups say that there is a far bigger threat to the global environment from the advocates of GMO trees. "The genetic changes forced into the genome of the tree carry with them impacts - and these impacts are extremely difficult, and in cases, impossible, to identify or assess. In the case of genetically modified poplar, pine or other trees with native wild relatives, the threat of irreversible genetic contamination from these genetically modified trees into native forests is impossible to control, if these trees are produced in large numbers and released into the environment," said Anne Petermann with the Global Justice Ecology project.

First Almost Fully-Formed Human Brain Grown in Lab August 18, 2015 The Guardian An almost fully-formed human brain has been grown in a lab for the first time, claim American scientists. Though not conscious, the miniature brain, which resembles that of a five-week-old fetus, could potentially be useful for scientists who want to study the progression of developmental diseases. It could also be used to test drugs for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, since the regions they affect are in place during an early stage of brain development. The brain, which is about the size of a pencil eraser, is engineered from adult human skin cells. “We have grown the entire brain from the get-go,” said scientist Rene Anand, claiming he and his colleagues have reproduced 99% of the brain’s diverse cell types and genes. As for ethical concerns, they are “non-existent.” Anand notes, “We don’t have any sensory stimuli entering the brain. This brain is not thinking in any way.” An outside neurologist consultant said that while the work sounds very exciting, it’s not yet possible to judge its impact, as it is being kept under wraps with patent pending. “When someone makes such an extraordinary claim as this, you have to be cautious until they are willing to reveal their data.”

Drought and California: Plastic Balls Shade LA Reservoir August 17, 2015 Nature World News In an attempt to conserve water in what seems to be an ever-lasting drought, 20,000 plastic "shade balls" were recently released in the Los Angeles Reservoir. These black balls will float on the water's surface without releasing any chemicals, and help block sunlight and UV rays. This will, in turn, reduce the rate of evaporation from the reservoir, which drains approximately 300 million gallons of water a year; and reduce the amount of algae growth, in order to keep the water safer for consumption. Each "shade ball" is a four-inch-wide, hollow ball, coated with a UV-light blocking chemical and filled with water to prevent wind relocation. The balls are also designed to avoid deterioration and are expected to last ten years before needing to be recycled.