Blog

news and writings on environmental issues

Welcome to my environmental blog that contains articles and other news.

A Little Humour

Posted by on Mar 29, 2016 in Environmental | Comments Off on A Little Humour

A retired Drilling Secretary gets pulled over for speeding… Retired Secretary: Is there a problem, Officer? Officer : Ma’am, you were speeding. Retired Secretary: Oh, I see. Officer : Can I see your license please? Retired Secretary: I’d give it to you but I don’t have one. Officer : Don’t have one? Retired Secretary: Lost it, 4 years ago for drunk driving. Officer : I see…Can I see your vehicle registration papers please. Retired Secretary: I can’t do that. Officer : Why not? Retired Secretary: I stole this car. Officer : Stole it? Retired Secretary: Yes, and I killed the owner. Officer : You what? Retired Secretary: His body is in the trunk if you want to see. The Officer looks at the woman and slowly backs away to his car and calls for back up. Within minutes 5 police cars circle the car. A senior officer slowly approaches the car, clasping his half drawn gun. Officer 2: Ma’am, could you step out of your vehicle please! The woman steps out of her vehicle. Retired Secretary: Is there a problem sir? Officer2: One of my officers told me that you have stolen this car and murdered the owner. Retired Secretary: Murdered the owner? Officer2: Yes, could you please open the trunk of your car, please. The woman opens the trunk, revealing nothing but an empty trunk. Officer2: Is this your car, ma’am? Retired Secretary: Yes, here are the registration papers. The officer is quite stunned. Officer2: One of my officers claims that you do not have a driving license. The woman digs into her handbag and pulls out a clutch purse and hands it to the officer. The officer examines the license. He looks quite puzzled. Officer2 : Thank you ma’am, one of my officers told me you didn’t have a license, that you stole this car, and that you murdered the owner. Retired Secretary: Bet the liar told you I was speeding,...

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Oil from Oil Sands Extraction Technique

Posted by on Dec 11, 2014 in Environmental | Comments Off on Oil from Oil Sands Extraction Technique

A Cleaner Way to Extract Oil From Oil Sands The secret to business is buy low and sell high. Canadian holding company MCW Energy Group hopes to do that by economically separating the petroleum from oil sands and then selling it at market rates of double to triple the processing costs. The company uses a patented closed-loop technology that treats the sands with a solvent that helps remove the oil. The oil and solvent are separated, with the latter recycled for the next batch of production. According to CEO Gerald Bailey, the finished sand is 99.9 percent clean and can be put back on the ground. The company currently has 1,000 acres in Vernal, Utah, about a 173-mile drive east of Salt Lake City. “Those sands run about 12 percent oil,” said Bailey, who has a doctorate in chemical engineering. “It looks like black sand. You can pick it up and it’s dry, but it’s dirty with oil in it.” An $8 million plant using the process can produce 250 barrels of oil a day at a cost of between $30 and $35 a barrel. “Conventional oils typically will run up to $20 a barrel,” he said. Although crude oil prices have plummeted from almost $100 a barrel to about $75 since September, that would still let MCW make a significant profit. “There are hundreds of little oil companies that make a good living off of 250 barrels a day,” Bailey said. But MCW sees its first plant as a proof of concept and is currently raising money to build a $70 million plant that could produce 5,000 barrels daily. In 2006, MCW acquired a Southern California oil distribution business that dates back to the 1930s, which brought products from refineries to gas stations. The business grossed more than $400 million last year, according to Bailey. “A couple of the founders also came across the technology for oil sands extraction out of some operations being done by the government in Russia,” Bailey said. The Russians had developed a process to remove oil from sand as a way to remediate environmental problems like oil spills. MCW realized that a variation on the technology could also produce oil from the sands. Because it uses a closed-loop system, it generates no by-products to cause environmental hazards, like the pools of waste water left in Western Canada after tar sands extraction. At the heart of the process is an organic solvent called a surfactant. It reduces the surface tension between the oil and sand, much the way a dish detergent reduces the bond between a spot of grease and a plate. Heat exchangers warm the slurry (like using hot water when doing the dishes). The sand drops to the bottom, and the oil and solvent mixture are piped to a tank where they are separated. The solvent is then used for the next batch of sand, while the oil is piped to a tanker and brought to a refinery. MCW returns the cleaned sand to the ground, although in theory it could be sold as an additional by-product. Although oil sands are sometimes compared to Canadian tar sands, there are some significant differences. The oil sands are on the surface, rather than underground, so they don’t require mining and injection of water to force...

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Shade Grown Coffee & Biodiversity

Posted by on Nov 13, 2014 in Environmental | Comments Off on Shade Grown Coffee & Biodiversity

Shade Grown Coffee & Biodiversity

I’m sure most of us have heard of shade grown coffee and that we might think that this coffee is better for the environment.  Right?  Well the answer is yes.  The following is extracted from a study in Costa Rica (Caudill S., F. DeClerck, and T. Husband and published in Science Direct – Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment Volume 199). There has been much research on the benefits of shade grown coffee for birds and insects.  This new study focussed on small, non- flying mammals and compared their abundance in three shade grown coffee plantations versus sun grown coffee plantations and forest landscapes.  Each of the 3 sites was sampled in four sessions totalling 46 sampling nights.  501 individuals of 17 small and medium mammal species were captured over seven months. There was no significant difference between the abundance and richness of small non-flying mammals found between the shade coffee plantations and the forest habitats embedded and adjacent to the coffee growing areas. However, both of these habitats had significantly more species and higher abundances than sun coffee habitats. Within habitats, at the plot level, higher amounts of canopy cover and lower strata vegetation (i.e., weeds, grasses, plants, and understory shrubs from 5 cm–1 m tall) significantly increased small mammal abundance and richness. Within coffee habitats (sun and shade), greater amounts of canopy cover were significantly associated with higher small mammal abundance and richness.  Small mammals thrived in areas adjacent to forest patches and as the proportion of forested areas within the landscape increased. This study suggests  that, while there is no substitute for native forest, shade coffee provides habitat for small non-flying mammals, particularly in comparison to sun coffee. Based on these findings, the researchers recommend including shade trees, maintaining high amounts of canopy cover, and retaining lower strata vegetation (5 cm–1 m) within coffee farms. In addition, sun growing coffee plantations could have forested habitats re-established and embedded within the coffee landscape that would enhance small  mammal...

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Beavers as ecosystem builders

Posted by on Oct 28, 2014 in Environmental | Comments Off on Beavers as ecosystem builders

Beavers as ecosystem builders

Either until recently or perhaps even now, beavers are routinely trapped and shot. The their homes (dams) have been destroyed by dynamite. However, it is being realized and proven that they can help reclaim and rebuild a hydrologic cycle that used to be the norm across much of North America.  This rebuilt hydrologic cycle can now assist in the defense against warmer and drier climate. In North America beavers used to number in the millions and were an integral part of the hydrological system. Some valleys were filled with continuous dams creating numerous wetlands. The population plummeted, largely because of fur trapping, and by the 1930s there were no more than 100,000 beavers, almost entirely in Canada.  Lately the numbers have rebounded to an estimated six million. Beavers are ecosystem engineers. The pooled water leads to a cascade of ecological changes. The pond nourishes young willows, aspens and other trees — prime beaver food — and provides a haven for fish that like slow-flowing water. The growth of grass and shrubs alongside the pond improves habitat for songbirds, deer and elk. Dams also raise the groundwater levels. Although it may not seem that beavers are beneficial to fish populations, they do help protect fish from rising water temperatures in rivers. The deep pools formed by beaver dams ensure there is cooler water at the bottom. However, an overabundance of beavers can they can do serious damage if they are left unchecked.  A device that simulates the noise of flowing water can help direct beavers and their activities to areas more desirable to humans.  Is there a downside to beaver dams, well yes, new dams and non-flowing water can be perfect for various non-native fish species such as carp which then displace some native species. There are still many unknowns of what the return of beavers means for arid ecosystems. Will it be always good in all situations? It is likely going to take 10 – 20 years to find...

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Five Ways Climate Change is Affecting Our Oceans

Posted by on Oct 21, 2014 in Environmental | 1 comment

Five Ways Climate Change is Affecting Our Oceans

This is a brief extract of an article I found in the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) site. While you may disagree with some of EDF’s ideas and methods some of the information presented is worthy of wider dissemination. The oceans have a large capacity to absorb heat and carbon dioxide; however, where is the tipping point to degradation? There is not one simple answer, but it is noteworthy to highlight some of the impacts. Temperatures in the shallowest ocean waters rose by more than 0.1 °C a decade for the past 40 years (that is almost 1/2 °C) and average sea levels have increased worldwide by about 19 cm since 1901. Most of the effects noted below are the response to these changes. 1. Coral bleaching Coral bleaching results in the starvation, shrinkage, and death of the corals that support the thousands of species that live on coral reefs (see the accompanying photo of bleached coral). 2. Fish migration Some fish species may move toward the poles or start to inhabit different strata of the ocean column. What are the impacts? 3. Drowning wetlands Rising sea levels are also “drowning” wetlands. Wetlands normally grow vertically fast enough to keep up with sea level rise, but recently the sea has been rising too fast for wetlands to keep their blades above water. Coral reefs and sea grass meadows are also in danger of “drowning” since they can only photosynthesize in relatively shallow water. 4. Ocean acidification The ocean has absorbed about 30 percent of all of the carbon dioxide sent into the atmosphere since the start of the Industrial Revolution. The trend in ocean acidification is about 30 times greater than natural variation, and average surface ocean pH has dropped by 0.1. Increasing acid levels affect the absorption of calcium carbonate that forms skeletons and shells that affects ecosystems, such as coral reefs, which depend on the formation of calcium carbonate to build reef structure. 5. A disastrous positive feedback loop Finally, acidification also appears to be reducing the amount of sulfur flowing out of the ocean into the atmosphere. This reduces reflection of solar radiation back into space that results in a kind of positive feedback loop of more heat being absorbed and the effects on the ocean...

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Behavior of Bats at Wind Turbines

Posted by on Oct 15, 2014 in Environmental | Comments Off on Behavior of Bats at Wind Turbines

The following research was carried out by many individuals. The  paper from which the summary below was taken was edited by James Brown of the University of New Mexico.  I think it is germaine because of the push lately for using non greenhouse gas emitting sources for our energy requirements. Wind turbines cause many bat fatalities. Some of these fatalities involve tree-roosting bats, but reasons for this higher susceptibility remain unknown. To better understand behaviors associated with this risk, bats were monitored at three experimentally manipulated wind turbines in Indiana, United States, from July 29 to October 1, 2012.  Thermal cameras and other methods were used for this monitoring. Bats were observed on 993 occasions.  Various behaviours including close approaches, flight loops and dives, hovering, and chases were observed. Most bats altered course toward turbines during these observations. Based on these new observations, they tested the hypotheses that wind speed and blade rotation speed influenced the way that bats interacted with turbines. They found that bats were detected more frequently at lower wind speeds and typically approached turbines on the leeward side. The proportion of leeward approaches increased with wind speed when blades were prevented from turning, yet decreased when blades could turn. Bats were observed more frequently at turbines on moonlit nights. Taken together, these observations suggest that bats may orient toward turbines by sensing air currents and using vision, and that air turbulence caused by fast-moving blades creates conditions that are less attractive to bats passing in close proximity. Tree bats may respond to streams of air flowing downwind from trees at night while searching for roosts, conspecifics, and nocturnal insect prey that could accumulate in such flows. Fatalities of tree bats at turbines may be the consequence of behaviours that evolved to provide selective advantages when elicited by tall trees, but are now maladaptive when elicited by wind turbines. Other hypotheses for bird mortality near wind turbines are that turbines heat the air that passes through them which then attracts insects which in turn attract birds that results in their death.  Let’s ensure data like this is used when deciding on a location for a wind...

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Earthwatch Institute

Posted by on Oct 9, 2014 in Environmental | Comments Off on Earthwatch Institute

LIKE TO TRAVEL AND DO SOMETHING FOR THE ENVIRONMENT? Are you interested in seeing parts of the world while as the same time doing something for the environment? I recently attended a noon-hour presentation as part of the Alberta Society of Professional Biologists “Brown Bag Luncheon” series.  Margaret Marra, an environmental planner with Shell, recently travelled to southern Brazil to take part in a research program combining ecosystem services protection and conservation in the southern Atlantic rainforest of Brazil. She was at the research station for 10 days assisting with some of the research activities there including mist netting for various species of birds.  She then continued exploring Brazil on her own as part of her vacation. Shell participates in the Earthwatch Institute program as a corporate sponsor and that allowed Margaret the opportunity to go to Brazil. Earthwatch currently has programs in various parts of the world in the following areas: Wildlife and Ecosystems, Archaeology and Culture, Climate Change, and Ocean Health. If you would like to know more about these excellent programs please check out www.Earthwatch.org and take a...

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