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Scientists discover new giant water lily species

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Published15 minutes agoSharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingA new species of giant water lily has been discovered – and it’s been hiding in plain sight for 177 years.The huge plant had been in the archives of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and was growing in a number of aquatic collections but it was mistakenly identified as another species.Now a detailed scientific study has revealed that it is new to science.It also holds the record as the world’s largest water lily, with leaves growing more than 3m (10ft) wide.The plant has been called Victoria boliviana – named after Bolivia, where it grows in a single water basin in part of the Amazon river system. Image source, Lucy SmithHorticulturist Carlos Magdalena, one of the world’s leading water lily experts, long suspected that the plant was different from the other two known giant species, Victoria amazonica and Victoria cruziana.So working with scientists from Bolivia – from the National Herbarium of Bolivia, Santa Cruz Botanic Gardens and Public Botanic Garden La Rinconada – he collected some seeds and brought them back to Kew.He told BBC News: “It meant we could grow it side-by-side with the two other species under exactly the same conditions. Once we did this we could very clearly see that every single part of the plant was totally different.”He described the find as the “highlight” of his career. Image source, Lucy SmithWorking alongside Carlos, botanical illustrator Lucy Smith made detailed scientific drawings of all three species.This also involved heading into the glasshouse at night because water lily flowers only come out in the dark. She said: “I was able to get access to the flowers, and also by looking at the leaves, I could, as an illustrator, highlight those differences that I saw. “And in fact, while I was drawing those differences, they became even stronger in my mind and I found new ways of telling them apart.”She added: “Maybe I’m biased, but out of the three species I think [the new species] has one of the most beautiful flowers.”Image source, RBG KewKew has a long history with the plants: The Water lily House was built in 1852 to showcase its collections. The giants – discovered in the 1800s – were a natural wonder of the age, and the genus was named after Queen Victoria.But the new discovery shows that water lilies still have some surprises and scientists say there is still much to learn about them.Dr Alex Monro from RGB Kew explained: ”None of the three species have been very well studied. “We still don’t know how many populations there are and how much they vary in size. We don’t really understand the pollination biology very well. We don’t know a lot about the dispersal of the species – how it transmits itself from one place to another. “So there are still many unknowns. And I think, because they’re so huge – so obvious – people haven’t really thought to study them in that much detail.”Image source, Carlos Magdelena The description of the plant is published in the journal Frontiers in Plant Biology.Follow Rebecca on Twitter.Related Internet LinksRGB KewNational Herbarium of BoliviaFrontiers in Plant Biology: Revised species delimitation in the giant water lily genus Victoria (Nymphaeaceae) confirms a new species and has implications for its conservationThe BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.

Finding the Higgs: ‘Incredible’ moment in science

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Ten years ago, scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (Cern) made an exciting announcement – they had moved one step closer to understanding the origins of the universe with the discovery of the Higgs boson, the so-called ‘God particle’. Physicist Dr Andre David was one of the scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – the powerful particle accelerator at Cern. He describes the moments leading up to the discovery and explains how it felt to be part of such an important moment in scientific history.

How much of our plastic 'recycling' is actually recycled?

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About 11 million tonnes of plastic waste flows into the ocean each year, according to the UN.On International Plastic Bag Free Day, population correspondent Stephanie Hegarty asks how effective efforts are to recycle plastic.She finds that even in countries where a large amount of plastic waste is collected, only part of it is actually recycled. Some may be shipped to a developing country, where it meets an unknown fate. Some – in Germany, for example – may be incinerated.And when a plastic bottle is recycled it may be turned into products such as food trays or fabrics that are much less likely to be recycled at the end of their lives.

Gambia bans all timber exports to combat rosewood smuggling

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Published55 minutes agoSharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingThe Gambia has banned timber exports and revoked all export licenses to try to combat illegal logging.The ban has come into effect immediately, and the port authorities have been instructed to refuse to load timber logs onto any vessel. In 2020, a BBC investigation revealed that vast quantities of protected West African Rosewood were being trafficked through the country from Senegal.Much of it ends up in China, where it is used to make furniture.It has been listed as an endangered species since 2017, and last month Cites, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, called on seven countries, including The Gambia, to suspend its trade.The Gambia is consistently among the five largest global exporters of West African Rosewood (Pterocarpus erinaceus), despite declaring its own stocks close to extinction almost a decade ago.By value and by volume, rosewood is one of the most trafficked wildlife products in the world.Also called Hongmu or “red wood”, it is prized for its colour and durability and is primarily used for antique-style furniture.Figures obtained by BBC Africa Eye showed that China imported more than 300,000 tonnes from The Gambia between 2017 and 2020. This video can not be playedTo play this video you need to enable JavaScript in your browser.That is the equivalent of about half a million trees and worth more than $100m (£80m). During a year-long investigation in both Senegal and The Gambia, multiple sources confirmed to the BBC that the rosewood being shipped out of The Gambia to China came from the Casamance region of southern Senegal.Along a 170km- (105 mile) long stretch of the border between the two countries, the BBC found at least 12 depots containing rosewood and other timber. They were all within Gambian territory.More on this storyShipping firm halts timber exports over smuggling8 July 2020Find out more about The Gambia14 February 2018

Supreme Court limits Biden's power to cut emissions

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Published20 hours agoSharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesThe US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has lost some of its power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.The landmark ruling by the US Supreme Court represents a major setback to President Joe Biden’s climate plans.He called it a “devastating decision” but said it would not undermine his effort to tackle the climate crisis.The case against the EPA was brought by West Virginia on behalf of 18 other mostly Republican-led states and some of the nation’s largest coal companies.They argued that the agency did not have the authority to limit emissions across whole states.These 19 states were worried their power sectors would be forced to move away from using coal, at a severe economic cost.In a 6-3 ruling, the court sided with the conservative states and fossil-fuel companies, agreeing that the EPA did not have the authority to impose such sweeping measures.A really simple guide to climate change Biden: ‘Decisive decade’ to tackle climate changeAttorney General Eric Schmitt for Missouri – one of the 19 states – called it a “big victory… that pushes back on the Biden EPA’s job-killing regulations”.The court hasn’t completely prevented the EPA from making these regulations in the future – but says that Congress would have to clearly say it authorises this power. And Congress has previously rejected the EPA’s proposed carbon limiting programmes.Environmental groups will be deeply concerned by the outcome as historically the 19 states that brought the case have made little progress on reducing their emissions – which is necessary to limit climate change.The states made up 44% of the US emissions in 2018, and since 2000 have only achieved a 7% reduction in their emissions on average.”Today’s Supreme Court ruling undermines EPA’s authority to protect people from climate pollution at a time when all evidence shows we must take action with great urgency,” said Vickie Patton, general counsel for Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Image source, EPA-EFE/REX/ShutterstockIt means President Biden is now relying on a change of policy from these states or a change from Congress – otherwise the US is unlikely to achieve its climate targets.This is a significant loss for the president who entered office on a pledge to ramp up US efforts on the environment and climate.On his first day in office he re-entered the country into the Paris Agreement, the first legally-binding universal agreement on climate change targets.And he committed the country to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 52% by 2030 against 2005 levels.”While this decision risks damaging our nation’s ability to keep our air clean and combat climate change, I will not relent in using my lawful authorities to protect public health and tackle the climate crisis,” he said.The outcome of this case will be noted by governments around the world, as it will affect global efforts to tackle climate change. The US accounts for nearly 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.A United Nations spokesman called it “a setback in our fight against climate change” but added that no single nation could derail the global effort.In the US, this ruling could also affect the EPA’s broader existing and future regulatory responsibilities – including consumer protections, workplace safety and public health.The ruling gives “enormous power” to the courts to target other regulations they don’t like, Hajin Kim, assistant professor of law at University of Chicago, tells the BBC.This is because judges can say Congress did not explicitly authorise the agency to do that particular thing, she adds.The impact on regulatory powers will be significantFor decades, the Supreme Court has held that judges should generally defer to government agencies when interpreting federal law. On Thursday, the conservative majority continued a recent trend of chipping away at that practice.Instead, the court’s justices embraced what’s called the “major questions doctrine” – which asserts that a federal agency’s discretion is limited on big issues that involve broad regulatory actions. If Congress had intended the Environmental Protection Agency to be able to issue sweeping regulations of an entire sector of the US economy, they said, it would have explicitly written that power into the Clean Air Act.In January, a similar majority of the court cited the major questions doctrine to strike down an attempt by the Biden administration to use a federal workplace law to mandate vaccinations for employees in large companies. It’s now clear this court will turn a sceptical eye to agency attempts to cite vague or broad laws to enact any sort of major regulatory changes. That’s a significant development, given how difficult it has been for Congress to pass substantive new legislation in recent years. The time when presidents could find unilateral “work-arounds” in existing law may be coming to an end.More on this storyA really simple guide to climate change13 October 2021Biden: ‘Decisive decade’ to tackle climate change22 April 2021Carbon ‘surge’ expected in post-Covid energy boom20 April 2021

New map of ancient trees an opportunity for conservation

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Published3 hours agoSharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingA new map shows there could be around two million trees with exceptional environmental and cultural value previously unrecorded in England.That’s ten times as many as currently on official records.This tree-map is sounding a rare note of optimism in the conservation world.But the Woodland Trust charity warns that these trees – known as ancient or veteran specimens – have “almost no” legal protection.It comes after a centuries-old oak tree was felled in Peterborough on Wednesday by the council, who said it was causing “structural damage” to nearby homes.The BBC joined the hunt for one of these ancient giants.On the Ashton Court Estate near Bristol, we follow Steve Marsh from the Woodland Trust, fighting our way through brambles and rhododendrons, in the hunt for the legendary Domesday Oak.Instead we discover an ancient unnamed tree – one the Trust has no record of. We take turns sitting inside – the air is cool and still. An ancient tree is considered remarkably old for its age – they are sometimes known as “living archaeology”. They’re incredibly rich in wildlife – one ancient oak has more biodiversity than a thousand 100-year-old oaks. And veteran trees have the features of an ancient specimen but are younger in age.”It’s that feeling you get when you see a really old cathedral or an old church and you think, imagine what the world was like back then,” Steve says, patting the gnarled wood.Image source, Victoria NolanThe tree is probably twice as old as St Paul’s Cathedral, built in 1675, and as old as the Tower of London, he says.Those buildings are protected, he explains, but the only reason this ancient tree has survived is because it’s in a park where landowners have looked after it, he suggests”All of our old and most amazing trees should have heritage status at least to protect them so that we can look after them and care for them in the future,” he says.It’s exactly this type of hidden ancient that Dr Victoria Nolan, from the University of Nottingham, spent four years looking for.After poring over existing records and tramping through the English countryside, it was “incredible” to establish there could be two million, she told me.Her team used a computer model to predict where the trees were likely to be. It looked at the layout of the landscape, habitat, but also distance from cities and human populations.”At first we couldn’t believe the results. The surprising bit for me was how they can be everywhere, in places where you wouldn’t think an ancient tree might be,” she said.Many are concentrated around London in the historic hunting parks and forests, as well as in the Lake District, Hereford and Northumberland. Before their work, tree records usually showed the places where scientists had gone to look for trees, rather than where they might be.”Now we show where they actually are in the environment,” she explains.But the results of her work are also “kind of scary”.”Our limited knowledge means those trees are not protected at all currently. Depending on where these trees are, anyone could go chop them down. They’re being damaged, especially in a lot of agricultural landscapes.”As biodiversity levels crash, these living beings are a safe haven for thousands of species. And their respiration also helps to cool a heating climate. They also contain history and memory – they help us to dream and imagine.Now, armed with this new map of old trees, scientists like Victoria and the rest of us could help to keep more of them alive.The study is published in the scientific journal Ecological Applications.Follow Claire on Twitter @BBCMarshall

Tributes paid to Oxford neuroscientist Professor Sir Colin Blakemore

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Published1 hour agoSharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Magdalen CollegeTributes have been paid to a world-renowned neuroscientist and University of Oxford professor. Professor Sir Colin Blakemore FRS, who had motor neurone disease, passed away on Monday aged 78, Magdalen College announced.The university professor and scientist specialised in vision and the development of the brain.Sir Colin was also known for defended medical research on animals, despite death threats.’Profoundly influential’He once told the BBC: “There were times I was shocked by what happened to me – razor blades in envelopes, bombs, threats against my kids – but I never doubted the principle of public engagement.”It is important for science to be in the public arena including the difficult things such as animal research, climate change or stem cells.”He was knighted in 2014 for his research and for communicating the importance of often controversial science.David Paterson, head of the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at the university, described him as “passionate” and “profoundly influential”. He said he “significantly contributed to our understanding of vision, and how the brain develops and adapts”.Professor Sir Colin Blakemore FRS 1944-2022Image source, Colin BlakemoreBorn in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1944Gained a first-class honours degree and MA in Medical Sciences at Cambridge and a PhD at BerkleyYoungest person to give the BBC Radio 4 Reith lectures in 1976Youngest person to be appointed Waynflete Professor of Physiology at Oxford in 1979Professorial Fellowship at Magdalen 1979-2007Director of the McDonnell-Pew Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience 1990-1996 Director of the Oxford Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience 1996-2003Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council 2003-2007Professor of Neuroscience at Oxford and a Supernumerary Fellow at Magdalen 2007-2012 Professorship of Neuroscience & Philosophy at the School of Advanced Study, University of London 2012Made an Emeritus Fellow at Magdalen and the Department of Physiology, Anatomy & GeneticsAndrew King, Wellcome principal research fellow and director of the Centre for Integrative Neuroscience, said he was “spellbound” by Sir Colin’s lectures.He said: “His remarkable ability to communicate science… and to publicly and bravely address issues like the need for using animals in medical research also made him stand out.”Humanists UK, of which Sir Colin was patron, said: “His career was not without controversy… but he was always courageous in the pursuit of scientific progress, even when faced with violent opposition. “His experience of nearly being assassinated with a parcel bomb only strengthened his resolve to promote better dialogue between scientists and the public…”Tributes were also paid by Prof AC Grayling, who called him a “brilliant scientist and a lovely, friendly man”, Prof Richard Dawkins, who said he was a “brilliant communicator of science, highly articulate but never intimidating”, and Prof Jim Al-Khalili, who said he was a “true giant of British science”.Follow BBC South on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Send your story ideas to [email protected] on this storyMedical research defender knighted13 June 2014Related Internet LinksMagdalen College OxfordLarge Lecture Theatre renamedCelebrated optical illusion piece in honour of Sir Colin Blakemore FRSThe BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.

Climate change: UK heading for failure on climate goals – report

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Published22 minutes agoSharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesThe government is heading for failure on its plans to limit climate change, its official advisers have warned.The Climate Change Committee (CCC) says that unless policies are radically improved, the government will need to try another tack by persuading people to fly less and eat less meat.It also cites a “shocking” lack of policy to insulate people’s homes, saying households would be saving £40 a year on bills if previous insulation policies had not been scrapped. The CCC also said the environment department Defra was guilty of “magical thinking” over cutting planet-heating emissions from farms.Unless housing and farming are tackled, the UK won’t achieve its target to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, the CCC says.A really simple guide to climate changeUK to miss tree planting targetHow we know humans are behind climate changeThe committee is an independent body advising on climate policy. This report is an annual review of progress to MPs.It does praise ministers on two issues: it says the government’s renewable energy programme will save people £125 a year on bills by 2030.And it congratulates ministers on promoting electric cars – even though it says more charge points and more electric vans are needed.In response to the report, the government noted that over the past three decades the UK had driven down emissions faster than any other G7 country, and that it had clear plans to go further.”The UK is forging ahead of most other countries with around 40% of our power now coming from cleaner and cheaper renewables,” it said.”This is backed up by £6bn of funding to make our homes and buildings more energy efficient, planting up to 30,000 hectares of new trees a year and more electric cars than ever before on our road – decarbonising our cars and vans faster than any other developed country.””Scant evidence”The committee agrees that carbon-cutting policies are now in place for most sectors of the economy – but it says there’s “scant evidence” that these goals will be delivered.And it warns that ministers need a back-up plan, including measures they may prefer to avoid such as asking the public to change behaviour by eating less meat and flying less.The chairman, Lord Deben, told BBC News that recent climate extremes were “very, very worrying”. He continued: “The public should be proud of the UK setting best targets but I’m very worried that there’s no convincing programme for delivering policies.“I’m seriously worried that we are not moving fast enough to avert real catastrophe.”Lord Deben focused on what he called “a lack of sensible policy” on home insulation. He said it was “scandalous” that house-builders were still building new homes that will need retro-fitting. Overall the committee says credible plans exist for over a third of the emissions reductions needed by the mid-2030s. With luck the UK will manage another quarter; but there’s a high risk that over a third of plans won’t deliver.It calls for a public engagement strategy on cutting emissions and wants analysis from the Treasury explaining how the costs and benefits of the low-carbon transition will be shared. It also urges changes in tax policy and planning legislation.This year’s report runs to 600 pages – three times longer than usual. That’s because instead of relying just on reported data, this time the committee has sought evidence on the ground of the low-carbon transition in action.Image source, Getty ImagesCoal mine plan rejectedIn a briefing, the committee again rejected proposals for a new coal mine in Cumbria, but said there would only be a tiny increase in emissions if old coal stations were used to keep the lights on in the winter.It said the government’s ambitions on nuclear power would be “very tough” to accomplish.Greenpeace spokesperson Ami McCarthy said: “It’s ironic that the CCC has named this a Progress Report when the government’s progress on climate policy is grinding to a standstill.“The longer this government drags its feet on greening our homes, delivering renewables and moving our food production system away from meat, the sharper and more costly the shift will be. Time is running out.”Meanwhile, the engineering firm Atkins considers the CCC over-optimistic. Its separately-published analysis shows the UK needs to build 12-16GW of new generation capacity each year between now and 2035. It warns: “The pace of new-build and complexity of the challenge means a dash to decarbonise power by 2035 may no longer be a credible ambition for the UK.”Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin

One in six UK adults doubt human link to climate change – report

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Published38 minutes agoSharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesOne in six adults in the UK does not believe that climate change is mainly caused by human activities, according to a report released on Wednesday.That’s despite scientists and policymakers around the world almost unanimously believing this to be the case.King’s College London conducted the study as part of a project looking at public trust in expertise.It was based on a survey of 12,000 adults across six European countries. Professor Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s, called the finding “a real concern as it may affect support for action.”The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said last year: “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”Climate change: How do we know it is happening and caused by humans?COP26: Are nations on track to meet their climate goals?What is net zero and how are the UK and other countries doing?The study also says the UK public underestimates how much scientists agree on the link between human activity and climate change. However, the majority of people in the UK (72%) do accept humans’ role in climate change, with a quarter of the UK public claiming it is already harming them personally.The number of people in the UK who believe climate change is not mainly caused by humans (17%) was similar to Germany (18%) and Poland (16%) but much lower than Norway, where nearly a quarter of adults surveyed held that opinion.Across the six countries surveyed, older people were more hopeful about our ability to slow climate change, according to the survey. Of those aged 55 and over, 60% thought it was not too late to do something about climate change, compared with 34% of 18-34 year-olds.

Ofwat investigates South West Water over sewage discharge

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SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, Getty ImagesSouth West Water is under investigation over its treatment of sewage, the Water Services Regulation Authority has announced.It joins five other water companies in England and Wales being probed over wastewater concerns.Raw sewage was discharged into waterways 375,000 times last year, according to the Environment Agency.South West Water said it was taking Ofwat’s decision “very seriously.”Discharged raw sewage poses a serious risk to health and the environment.South West Water cover Devon, Cornwall and small parts of Dorset and Somerset, areas of England that are popular with swimmers and surfers.Investigations are ongoing into Anglian Water, Northumbrian Water, Thames Water, Wessex Water and Yorkshire Water.Ofwat investigates five firms over wastewater treatment’Chemical cocktail’ polluting English riversSwimmer hospitalised after ‘swallowing sewage’It has become common in England and Wales for members of the public to report seeing raw sewage in rivers, canals and along the coasts.Condoms, toilet paper, and even excrement can be seen in the water and on riverbanks or beaches.”As we gather and analyse more information, including data on storm overflow spills, our concerns have grown further about South West Water’s operation of its wastewater assets and environmental performance,” said David Black, Ofwat Chief Executive.He called the scale of the issue so far “shocking” and told BBC News that Ofwat had never taken action on this scale before.How clean are UK’s rivers and lakes?A South West Water spokesperson said the company would work “openly and transparently” with Ofwat. The company noted that it had recently announced its largest environmental programme in 15 years.”This will reduce our use of storm overflows, maintain our region’s excellent bathing water quality standards all year round and reduce and then remove our impact on river water quality by 2030,” South West Water said. The charity Rivers Trust told BBC News that the decision to open the investigation was “long overdue” and that “this kind of practice has become business as usual in the water sector.”In January, MPs were warned that a “chemical cocktail” is running through all of England’s rivers.Ofwat has the power to fine water companies 10% of their annual income.

Nasa launches first rocket from Australian commercial spaceport

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SharecloseShare pageCopy linkAbout sharingImage source, NASAAn unassuming patch of red dirt in remote Australia has made history as the site of Nasa’s first rocket launch from a commercial spaceport outside the US.The sub-orbital rocket blasted off from the tiny site early on Monday local time.It will enable astrophysics studies that can only be undertaken in the Southern Hemisphere, Nasa says.The launch was also the first in Australia in more than 25 years.The rocket is the first of three to blast off from the newly constructed Arnhem Space Centre on the edge of the Northern Territory. Scientists hope it will help them study the impact of a star’s light on the habitability of nearby planets.Onlookers who travelled to the remote site glimpsed the rocket for only about 10 seconds before it entered the Earth’s atmosphere.”It was in the blink of an eye, but to me, it was like it was in slow motion because the whole area just lit up,” Yirrkala School co-principal Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.”It went up, and then the sound, it was just like a rumbling boom, like nothing I’ve ever heard. And I just shook with amazement.”The sounding rocket’s tenure in space was similarly short – the 13m-long projectile fell back to Earth after a planned 15 minutes.But experts believe the data gathered in that time will help illuminate the secrets of star constellations 430 million light years away.”Without getting too deep into the science, it was effectively a large X-ray camera looking at various astrological phenomenon and trying to capture parts of boulders in the Milky Way and particularly the star cluster of Alpha Centauri,” Arnhem Space Centre chief executive Michael Jones told the local network Nine.Northern Territory Chief Minister Natasha Fyles hailed the launch as an “extremely proud” moment for Australia, adding it was conducted with the blessing of the region’s Aboriginal traditional owners.”Here on Yolngu land, young Territorians can look up at the sky and know what can be done,” Ms Fyles said.”When we see the oldest living culture combining with the science of space, as we have here, it’s something we can all reflect on and be very proud.”Image source, NASAThe next launch is expected to take place on 4 July.Nasa has pledged to collect all material and debris and return them to the US.More on this storyAustralia launches new space defence agencyNasa rover begins key drive to find life on MarsWorld’s biggest space telescope leaves EarthAstronaut takes TikTok to new heights