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Kite Energy Might Start to Soar

March 13, 2022

Scientists Say The Amazon Might Be Reaching a Tipping Point

The Amazon rainforest has played a vital role in regulating global climate by absorbing heat-trapping CO2 and storing it in vegetation. But because of deforestation and global warming, it may be reaching a tipping point where it becomes a grassy savannah and forests can’t return.

Deforested area in Brazil | Credit: Ibama/Creative Commons

A new study says more than three-quarters of the rainforest, particularly near urban areas, has lost its ability to recover because of deforestation from logging and slash-and-burn practices to promote farming. Weather extremes and drought further reduce the forest’s ability to bounce back.

While the study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the University of Exeter says that the process of transforming the Amazon into a savannah could take decades, it would have significant effects of accelerating the climate crisis dramatically, changing regional weather patterns, and endangering biodiversity. Even just a partial dieback would lead to more global warming.

In a release, one of the researchers said the rainforest affects rainfall all over South America because of the amount of water that evaporates into the atmosphere. Much of the deforested area in Brazil has industrial-sized plantations that grow soybeans for feed to pigs and chickens, according to the Washington Post. And other areas have been converted into rangeland for cattle. Mongabay reports that almost 80 percent of the fires in the Brazilian Amazon were linked in 2020 to deforestation by farmers, who burn the land to clear it quickly. However, fires can get large and out of control.

Inside Climate News reports that while new research further supports the conclusion that the Amazon will reach a point where it converts to a drier ecosystem, there is debate about the timing of that tipping point, and whether it will cover the entire rainforest.

As the Washington Post reports, a sudden release of greenhouse gas would put the Paris accord goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius out of reach. The authors of the study say the way to save the Amazon is to stop deforestation and slow down global warming.

The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

You Could Be Unwittingly Feeding Your Cat Endangered Shark Meat

If you have a cat, have you ever looked at the ingredients of their favorite food? If it lists vague terms like “fish,” “ocean fish,” or “white bait,” according to a new study from the National University of Singapore, you might be feeding your furry friend endangered shark meat.

Silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) at Jardines de la Reina, Cuba | Credit: Alex Chernikh/Creative Commons

Researchers used DNA barcoding to analyze 45 different pet food products from 16 different brands that were all produced, canned, or packaged in Thailand and sold in Singapore. They found about 31 percent of the samples—which included top brands such as Sheba, Whiskas, and Fancy Feast—contained shark DNA.

The most commonly identified species were blue shark (Prionace glauca), silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis), and the whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus)—the latter two of which are listed as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List.

Sharks are crucial for keeping marine ecosystems in balance, but it’s estimated that their numbers have declined by more than 70 percent in the last 50 years, impacting entire food chains and the health of seagrass beds and coral reefs. The researchers say three-quarters of all oceanic shark species are considered at risk of extinction, in part because of demand for their fins but also because of their use in pet food and cosmetics. They say around 100 million sharks may be killed annually.

A similar 2019 study found shark DNA in 78 pet food samples and a wide range of beauty products sold in the U.S. People may not realize that some body care and beauty products use shark-derived squalene (as opposed to plant-derived squalane).

The authors are calling for globally implemented standards to avoid the overexploitation of endangered species and more transparency in labeling to help consumers make informed choices.

The study was published in Frontiers in Marine Science.

Companies Go Fly Kites to Produce Renewable Energy

The invasion of Ukraine has underscored the urgency of getting off fossil fuels, which beyond furthering the climate crisis, are putting energy security at risk for countries dependent on Russia’s natural gas. In response, European governments are speeding up their transition to renewables such as wind and solar, and as they do, a new technology might be part of the mix—kites.

SkySails Airborne Wind Energy System Backview

As Yale Environment 360 reports, a German company called SkySails Power has launched the world's first fully autonomous commercial "airborne wind energy" (AWE) system at a pilot site on the island nation of Mauritius off the east coast of Africa. Its kite looks like a paraglider sail and moves in a figure-eight pattern in the sky. As it flies, it tugs on its tether to power a generator on the ground.

Kites have an advantage over wind turbines by being able to reach higher altitudes where the wind blows stronger and more consistently. Experts say wind energy a half mile above the earth could be 4.5 times greater than at ground level. Lorenzo Fagiano, an engineer at the Polytechnic University of Milan told Yale Environment 360 that kites could bring relatively cheap energy to remote locations or be tethered to barges in deep ocean waters beyond where traditional wind turbines can be anchored. Their height is adaptable, so they can be moved up or down to access winds that change with the seasons—or stowed away during severe weather or hurricanes.

A 2021 report to Congress from the U.S. Department of Energy concluded that AWE could provide a significant source of energy but added that the technology would require significant further development before it could be deployed at meaningful scales at the national level.

Interest in AWE is soaring with several companies developing systems, including Netherlands-based Kitepower, which has a project in the Caribbean, and Norway-based Kitemill, which is aiming to make megawatt-scale systems. But while they go high, the Swedish-based company Minesto is going low—as in deep underwater. Its tethered glider, uses its Deep Green technology and will sail through ocean currents to generate power.

You Otter Find a Greener Way to Celebrate Saint Patrick's Day

Since the 1960s, the river running through the heart of Chicago has been legally dyed green to celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day. This year was no exception.

Otters in a Cook County Forest Preserve in Illinois | Credit: Peter Pekarek/Forest Preserve District of Cook County

But people have been unlawfully coloring other portions of the Chicago River in recent years, which can harm fish and wildlife, in particular river otters, which have made a stunning comeback, following efforts in recent decades to clean the waterway, which is much healthier today than it was 60 years ago.

WBEZ reports that river otters used to be endangered in Illinois but are no longer after being reintroduced in the 1990s. The population of the animals in the state has soared from about 100 to 20,000.

Authorities from the Illinois Department of Natural Resource and the Cook County Forest Preserve District were out patrolling the North Branch of the famous river last weekend to make sure illegal dyes were not put in the water, which could hurt not only otters but also fish and other aquatic species.

The ingredients of the official dye are a closely guarded secret, but the group Friends of the Chicago River told WTTW TV they’d like to see a new tradition that highlights the river ecosystem and offers a greener way to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day.