SOUND JOURNALISM ABOUT THE PLANET

Highlights from the Week's News

This Week in Water™ airs on community and public radio stations nationwide and is available on podcast networks. Want environmental news delivered to your inbox? Sign up for our newsletter.

How Wetland Scientists Made D-Day a Success

June 09, 2024

Commandos and Scientists Teamed Up, So the D-Day Invasion Did Not Bog Down

On June 6, 2024, tributes were paid to the 160,000 troops of the Allied forces who carried out the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France—a dramatic and bloody turning point of World War II. While much has been written about D-Day, little is known about intelligence collected by commandos behind enemy lines who helped wetland scientists conduct research that was critical to the success of Operation Overlord—research that was focused on mud.

The Coast Guard at Normandy "The Jaws of Death"  |  Credit:  Robert F. Sargent, U.S. Coast Guard

Professor Christian Dunn, a scientist at Bangor University in the UK, has published a study showing how planning for D-Day depended on information about where the French coast could support heavy vehicles and equipment for the invasion force. The initial intelligence for the operation was based upon maps smuggled out by the French Resistance, which suggested that peat might underlie the beaches and destabilize the landing. One of those maps dated back to Roman-era surveys showing peat to be used as fuel. Peat consists of organic matter that is partially decomposed and might not be able to bear much weight.  

After a scientific advisor to the Allies warned that the beaches might not support the invasion, more information was needed. So, in 1943, months before D-Day, two British commandos swam to shore from a boat 300 meters off what was named Gold Beach in France. Under cover of darkness, they collected ten sediment samples and then swam back to their boat.

The soil samples were then analyzed for peat and clay content to make sure the area was suitable. Over the following months, the same two commandos sampled about 30 more areas, which analysts in London used to identify acceptable locations for wheeled vehicles.

As Dunn states, without the efforts of the commandos and the wetland scientists, the operation could have literally been bogged down in the mud—leaving troops to become easy targets for the German occupiers. Allied naval commander Admiral Bertram Ramsay said that the success of the invasion depended on these operations.

Professor Dunn’s study was published in the journal Wetlands.

Wildfire Smoke Is So Pervasive, There’s Now a New Metric—“Lake-Smoke Day”

Almost every one of more than one million lakes in North America has been affected by smoke from wildfires—even if they weren’t near a blaze.

UC, Davis, scientists sample Lake Tahoe amid thick wildfire smoke in 2021. | Credit: UC, Davis, Tahoe Environmental Research Center

Scientists from the University of California, Davis, looked at data from lakes over 25 acres in size from 2019 to 2021 and found that wildfire smoke is widespread and pervasive, drifting hundreds of miles to a lake. The study introduces the concept of a “lake-smoke day”— the number of days a lake is exposed to smoke each year. Researchers noted that smoke can decrease the amount of sunlight that reaches lakes, which can alter how carbon, nutrients, or toxic compounds can be deposited in the water.

Another study from UC, Davis, released last month, looked at lakes in California and found that, when there was smoke cover, the water was cooled from less sunlight, which impacted how ecosystems functioned. Photosynthesis by algae and plankton decreased substantially, one scientist told CapRadio.

While the researchers don’t know exactly how food webs or lake ecology is affected, they now know the large scope of the problem.

The most recent UC Davis study was published in the journal Global Change Biology.

Your Salad May Have a New Condiment—Roadware Particles from Tires

Vehicle tires are, quite literally, where rubber meets the road, but our modern wheels are made with far more than the sap of trees. For durability, safety, and performance, tires are fabricated not only with natural and synthetic rubber but also with a complex mix of chemical additives, which, according to new research, could be in your salad.

Credit: Dean Hochman/Flickr

Scientists at the University of Vienna and Hebrew University of Jerusalem analyzed leafy vegetables grown in Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and Israel to see if they contained any tire compounds and found six of them had been taken up by the crops. Although the vegetables had relatively low concentrations of the additives, the team says it means they’re in our food, where they just don’t belong.

Tire and road wear particles are one of the most abundant types of microplastics polluting the environment. The fragments can become airborne and get deposited into farm fields—especially ones near roads—or end up in rivers and streams and eventually the ocean. The contaminants are also sent into city sewers when rains wash them off streets and then collect in wastewater treatment facilities. Given much of the world’s agriculture is irrigated with treated wastewater, that’s one avenue for compounds to find their way into food, but they can also be introduced when farmers fertilize using sewage sludge, known as biosolids.

The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science.

How Dead People in Spain Are Helping to Support Renewable Energy

València, Spain, has been suffering from climate-change driven severe droughts and extreme heat, so the city has committed itself to phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable energy.

A visualization of solar panels at cemeteries  |  Credit: Alejandro Ramón, València Councillor for Climate Emergency and Energy Transition

Just where to put new solar panels in the crowded municipality was potentially a challenge, but Alejandro Ramón, the Councilor for Climate Emergency and Energy Transition, knew of some open space—cemeteries.

In a project dubbed, “Requiem in Power” or RIP, the city has started installing thousands of solar panels above mausoleums with a goal of generating more than 440,000 kilowatts per year using its five graveyards. As EuroNews Green reports, most of the energy will power municipal buildings and 25 percent will go to vulnerable households. Also, because the project is within the city where the power will be used, no transmission lines are required, reducing the amount of energy lost.

The project is part of the Valencia 2030 Climate Mission, in which the city intends to become climate-neutral by 2030, and will save 140 tons of carbon emissions every year. However, Ramón says they can’t claim to be the first to come up with the idea. That honor goes to the town of Saint-Joachim in the Loire Valley of France, where the local cemetery will not only supply power to its residents, but will also collect rainwater to irrigate the community’s sports fields and help reduce flooding.