Climate Change continues to Break Records
2018 has already seen record-breaking heatwaves across the world, with the UK experiencing a significantly longer summer than we’ve all been used to. With the heat come storms, such as Hurricane Lane which already gained the title of a landmark storm as the strongest hurricane to get within 300 miles of Hawaii.
The volcanic archipelago in the Central Pacific has taken a battering in the last few days, and, with increasing temperatures, this kind of event is likely to happen again in the future. Historically, Hawaii has been protected against hurricanes because sea surface temperatures around the islands are generally too cold to support a tropical cyclone.
However, as the oceans warm due to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the air, Hawaii will be increasingly at risk of hurricanes in the future. Now an El Niño event is developing in the Central Pacific, bringing higher than average sea surface temperatures around Hawaii, meaning that tropical storms and hurricanes can survive further north than they have previously done.
Studies have shown that climate change causes these storms to carry more water vapour than they used to, which means they are also producing bigger amounts of rainfall.
Don’t Throw Your Contact Lenses Down the Toilet!
Scientists at Arizona State University have conducted the first nationwide study into the discarding of contact lenses down the drain and how this may be contributing to plastic pollution.
The use of daily contact lenses is growing as convenience increases and prices continue to decrease. Researchers found that across the US, 15-20% of contact lens wearers are flushing the lenses down the sink or toilet. This amounts to 1.8-3.7 billion lenses being flushed per year, about 20-23 tonnes of wastewater-borne plastics annually – this is roughly equivalent to 12 cars worth of contact lenses.
The study found that lenses that are washed down the drain typically go through wastewater-treatment plants, which fragment them into microplastics which then accumulate in sewage sludge. Sewer sludge is either incinerated, applied on land (sent to an agricultural area to enrich the soil) or sent to a landfill, thereby releasing the microplastics into the environment. Burning the sludge leads to pollutants ending up in the atmosphere and applying it to land lets the microplastics enter terrestrial ecosystems.
Microplastics are known to absorb contaminants at high concentrations so these tiny bits of contact lenses can act as a vehicle for pollutants, which also end up in our ecosystem and environment.
The Evolution of a Firefly
The reason for fireflies’ bioluminescence has long been thought to have evolved to attract a mate by using vibrant courtship signals. However, researchers at Boise State University, the University of Florida and Purdue University have now suggested that the fireflies’ glow may also have evolved to deter their main predator from eating them.
The researchers pitted free-flying bioluminescent fireflies against three naïve big brown bats in a dark, anechoic (free from echo) flight room for 1 to 4 days and filmed their interactions using three high-speed cameras. The results showed that the fireflies, which are toxic, transmitted multi-sensory warning signals to the echolocating bats to ward them off.
The conclusion of the study suggest that bat predation may have driven the evolution of firefly bioluminescence, but further evidence is needed to support this claim.
Written by Jeanne Kroeger