What caused the Apocalyptic red sun over the UK?

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IMG_1692Yesterday, 16th October 2017, those living in the UK experienced the most amazing unusual sun! I was alerted by a colleague to look outside and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw what I described as an apocalyptic red sun in a lighter red sky.

I later found out that the surreal event was caused by Sahara desert dust together with ashes from the recent fires in Spain and Portugal which were swept in by the remains of hurricane Ophelia. Hurricanes are more common and more intense in recent years due to climate change.

Hurricane Ophelia originated in the Azores and as it made its way northwards it dragged in tropical air from the Sahara, bringing Sahara dust with it.  However, the Met Office pointed out that the majority of the dust was from the Iberia region.

The unusual red sun was a result of scattering of dust causing shorter wavelengths to be scattered which made it appear red.

Social media went all red too, with so many pictures of the sun with the hashtags #red #redsun and #apocalyptic. I thought I was being original when I used #apocalyptic.

See more details of the event and stunning photos in this BBC article.

Photo credit: Vera Barbosa, taken from my office window.

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Texas faces worst floods in half a century

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I was in Houston, Texas, this time of the year 4 years ago and it’s sad to see how badly affected the city and its people are today by tropical storm Harvey. The BBC news just reported that this is the worst floods Texas has faced in 50 years. At least 5 people are reported to have died (New York Times). Meanwhile, the UK had the hottest August bank holiday on record today. All these extreme weather events are signs of climate change.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stated that “the global warming of the past 50 years is primarily due to human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels.” Yet, the current US government, who doesn’t believe in climate change, has decided to undo any effort from previous governments to reduce the use of energy from fossil fuel.

NOAA published the key findings of the US National Climate Assessment in their website. Some of the findings are listed below:

  • Some extreme weather and climate events have increased in recent decades, and new and stronger evidence confirms that some of these increases are related to human activities.
  • Human-induced climate change is projected to continue, and it will accelerate significantly if global emissions of heat-trapping gases continue to increase.
  • Impacts related to climate change are already evident in many sectors and are expected to become increasingly disruptive across the nation throughout this century and beyond.
  • Climate change threatens human health and well-being in many ways, including through more extreme weather events and wildfire, decreased air quality, and diseases transmitted by insects, food, and water.
  • Infrastructure is being damaged by sea level rise, heavy downpours, and extreme heat; damages are projected to increase with continued climate change.

Carbon Brief carried out an analysis which suggests 63% of all extreme weather events studied to date were made more likely or more severe by human-caused climate change. Heatwaves account for nearly half of such events (46%), droughts make up 21% and heavy rainfall or floods account for 14%. The report includes an interactive map which shows 144 extreme weather events across the globe which has been studied scientifically. The Carbon Brief analysis points out that “taking into account all modeling results, the probability of an event like the one in south Louisiana in 2016 has increased at least by a factor of 1.4 due to radiative forcing.” Link

The BBC news also reported that President Trump is to visit Houston. Hopefully, he will believe now that weather extremes are becoming comon place everywhere, including the USA, and hopefully he will begin to believe that the effects of climate change are real and think about his recent actions.

Some photos I’ve taken during my one-day stop in Houston, Texas, this time 4 years ago.

Reference

van de Wiel et al., (2017) Rapid attribution of the August 2016 flood-inducing extreme precipitation in south Louisiana to climate change. Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 21, 897-921

A tale of ‘How Science can survive hostile governments’

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How Science Can SurviveMarch for Science event in Washington D.C. in April 2017. Photo by Aaron Bernstein / Reuters

As a research scientist, I thought I should share this article titled ‘How Science can survive hostile governments’ published in The Atlantic.

The article headline states “Scientists have a history of using political attacks to galvanize support for reform.” It describes examples of how scientists under governments who were unsupportive of science development, especially climate change related science, fought those governments.

“People are outraged by the recent developments in the United States, but if you compare the experiences of scientists in different countries, you can see that there are some underlying issues that transcend administrations,” says Carlos Carroll, a conservation biologist at the Klamath Center for Conservation Research in California and the lead author of the paper.

Gibbs, another co-author of the Conservation Biology paper, says that scientists laboring under unfriendly administrations should be sure to document firsthand evidence of scientific suppression. In Canada during the Harper administration, a single anonymous photograph of a pile of scientific books and papers in a dumpster stoked national outrage about the government’s destruction of seven historic fisheries libraries—and helped turn the political tide against Harper.

Gibbs and her co-authors add that “when government scientists are silenced, scientists employed by universities and non-profit organizations can lead the fight for institutional reforms—both as individuals and through scientific societies.”

Link to the full article: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/07/science-hostile-governments/534789/

 

March for Science on Earth Day 2017

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Today is Earth Day, which is a day when environmentalists around the world put a lot of effort into raising awareness about the vulnerabilities of our planet and how a lot more needs to be done to protect it from the effects of climate change. Previous Earth Day campaigns dealt with in the Earth Day programme include a range of issues from encouraging green cities and reforestation to adopting renewable energy sources.

Around 1 billion people are expected to participate in Earth Day around the world today, making it the largest civic observance in the world. This is because the March for Science event is also taking place today around the world.

This year we saw the new leader of one of the most powerful nations on the planet start undoing all the positive and good things done by his predecessor to protect the planet. In an article in the Washington Post today a science communicator said “We are at a critical juncture. Science is under attack. The very idea of evidence and logic and reason is being threatened by individuals and interests with the power to do real harm.”  We can guess who she’s referring to.

A YouTube star Tyler DeWitt soon took the stage and pointed out: “Experts need to learn how to explain things in a way regular folks can understand. Ditch the jargon!” he said. “Make it understandable. Make people care. Talk to them, not at them. We cannot complain about slashed funding if we can’t tell taxpayers why science matters.” I think he has a point, it is important to make sure the public know why science matters. The science curriculum in most countries includes educating kids about the importance of science and environmental issues such as pollution, global warming and climate change. However, the older generation who didn’t learn about environmental issues at school needs to be made aware in a way that is engaging and in a way they can understand.

Link to Washington Post article.

Latest update from the Washington Post.

Controlling Pseudomonas aeruginosa in 7 UK hospitals using copper and silver ionisation

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Image credit: Debra Weinstein, Sao-Mai Nguyen-Mau, and Vincent Lee

This blog was first posted on my LinkedIn page on 6th February and it is about a Legionella and Pseudomonas control modality (copper and silver ionisation) which I consider to be more environmentally benign than most pathogens control modalities.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is a common biofilm-forming Gram-negative opportunistic bacterium with extensive metabolic diversity, which allows it to thrive in a wide variety of environments and nutrient sources. Hospital water is a recognised source of the pathogen, but it is a common cause of both community-acquired and hospital-acquired infections. P. aeruginosa is implicated in diseases especially of the lungs and thus need to be controlled in healthcare facilities, particularly in augmented units.

Copper and silver ionisation (CSI) is recognised as a technology which has been widely studied (Perez Cachafeiro et al. 2007, Dziewulski et al. 2015, Shih et al. 2010, Walveren et al. 2015) and used to successfully control Legionella in hospitals (Stout and Yu 2003). CSI has also been shown to control other pathogens including P. aeruginosa and thus this study evaluated the effectiveness of copper and silver ionisation for the control of P. aeruginosa in water outlets of seven UK hospitals over a four-year period.

Samples from outlets identified as being at risk were taken for analysis for P. aeruginosa, following procedure recommend by the DH Estates and Facilities Division and for copper and silver by Inductively Coupled Plasma-Optical Emission Spectroscopy/Mass Spectrometry.

The results showed that of 6278 samples analysed between 2012 and 2016, a total of 553 (8.8%) were positive for P. aeruginosa, with over 70 samples showing less than 100 cfu/ml. The percentage of positives for individual hospitals ranged from 1.3 to11.4% (Table 1).

Copper and silver ionisation controlled P. aeruginosa better in some of the hospitals studied than in others, nevertheless, adequate control of P. aeruginosa was achieved in all hospitals, with one hospital showing only one positive out of 125 samples analysed throughout a whole year with 9 cfu/100 ml.

Table 1 – Pseudomonas aeruginosa Summary Data for 7 Hospitals

It was concluded that copper and silver ionisation is effective for P. aeruginosa control and it is recommended that the system is regularly monitored to ensure the required concentration of ions is maintained. Monitoring should not be a difficult task since the latest version of the system can be monitored remotely.

The full version of this paper is going to be submitted and hopefully published in a peer-reviewed journal in the near future.

References

Perez Cachafeiro S, Mato Naveira I, González Garca I (2007) Is copper-silver ionisation safe and effective in controlling legionella? J Hosp Infect 67:209-216.

Dziewulski, DM, Ingles ECodru NStrepelis JSchoonmaker-Bopp D (2015) Use of copper-silver ionization for the control of legionellae in alkaline environments at health care facilities. American Journal of Infection Control 43:971-6.

Shih H-Y, Lin YE (2010) Efficacy of copper-silver ionisation in controlling biofilm- and plankton-associated waterborne pathogens. Appl Environ Microb76(6):2032-2035.

Stout JE, Yu, VL (2003) Experiences of the first 16 hospitals using copper-silver ionization for Legionella control: implications for the evaluation of other disinfection modalities. Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology 23(8):563-568. 

Walveren N, Pool W, Chapman C (2015) The dosing accuracy of copper and silver ionisation systems: separate high purity copper and silver electrodes versus copper/silver alloys. Journal of Water Process Engineering 8:119-125.

Photo description: The above micrograph shows a false-coloured image of individual cells of P. aeruginosa (green) resting on the fibrous surface of a biofilm (purple) that helps protect cells beneath its surface. At top right, two cells incorporated within the biofilm peek out from a fissure in the film’s surface.

Link to LinkedIn post.

Very Stressful time for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

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US-EPA Environmental topics page cover photo

I read a post (copied below) on a friend’s Facebook page and as she’s a serious environmental scientist I believe this is actually happening. Since reading the post I searched other recent news on the subject and found an article in the Independent Newspaper online on the subject, which suggests this is actually happening.

This is the post I read on Facebook

Worth knowing.
From an EPA staff:
“So I work at the EPA and yeah it’s as bad as you are hearing:

The entire agency is under lockdown, the website, facebook, twitter, you name it is static and can’t be updated. All reports, findings, permits and studies are frozen and not to be released. No presentations or meetings with outside groups are to be scheduled.

Any Press contacting us are to be directed to the Press Office which is also silenced and will give no response.

All grants and contracts are frozen from the contractors working on Superfund sites to grad school students working on their thesis.

We are still doing our work, writing reports, doing cancer modeling for pesticides hoping that this is temporary and we will be able to serve the public soon. But many of us are worried about an ideologically-fueled purging and if you use any federal data I advise you gather what you can now.

We have been told the website is being reworked to reflect the new administration’s policy.

Feel free to copy and paste, you all pay for the government and you should know what’s going on. I am posting this as a fellow citizen and not in any sort of official capacity.”

If you share, please do so with copy and paste.”

A recent Washington post article confirms that “Trump administration tells EPA to freeze all grants, contracts”

Carbon Brief has posted on the subject

“The world is now into the seventh full day of Donald Trump’s presidency and there is little sign of any rest from the unrelenting news cycle it has fuelled. Fresh developments and controversies are dropping by the hour. But, as yet, we still don’t have much in the way of firm policies relating specifically to climate change.There has been talk of funding cuts and reform to the US’s relationship to the United Nations, but still nothing firm on Trump’s campaign pledge to pull out of the Paris Agreement. However, a major cloud still hangs over the future of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the anti-science rhetoric and threats coming from Trump’s team have sparked some extraordinary online resistance since last week’s inauguration. A “March for Science” is already being organised.”

I checked the US-EPA website and most of the staff are listed as ‘acting’ this and that. I think this is very alarming news to environmental scientists not just in the US, but globally and I hope, for the sake of our already fragile Earth, that Trump and his team who agrees with his crazy ideas won’t last their term in office.

 

Controlling legionella in a UK hospital using copper and silver ionisation—A case study

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legionella – shutterstock.com

 

This is a summary of my recently published paper based on legionella control data from a hospital in the UK. The paper presents data from before and after using a copper and silver ionisation (CSI) system, comprising 99.99% copper and 99.99% silver electrodes, installed as a replacement to a low performing chlorine dioxide system. The CSI system was used in conjunction with the existing temperature regime and was installed upstream of the water storage tanks to allow adequate build-up of copper and silver in tanks so that good levels were available for distribution to outlets.

Samples were taken monthly and analyzed for legionella, by the culture method, and for copper and silver by Inductively Coupled Plasma-Optical Emission Spectroscopy/Mass Spectrometry over a four-year period. Temperature was also measured.

Table 1 below shows the results for legionella counts and water temperature before the CSI was installed. The highest count was observed in the cold water supply to a Thermostatic Mixing Valve (TMV) at 19.6 °C. This shows that keeping cold water temperatures below 20 °C at outlets as recommended by the Health Safety Executive (HSE) did not control L. pneumophila s1 at this outlet. The variation in the hot water temperature recorded (52.0–59.4 °C) showed the difficulty of keeping hot water temperatures above 55 °C, as recommended by the HSE HSG274.

Figure 1 below shows the number of samples tested as well as number and percentage positives for legionella (fail). The CSI system was installed in October 2011 and the system had initial problems during the commissioning stage and up to four months after commissioning, owing to deadlegs, deadends and low-use outlets. However, the highest number of contaminated samples observed after commissioning was in May 2012, when a total of 10 outlets out of 140 tested showed legionella counts ranging from 100 to 500 cfu/L, except for one count of 1300 cfu/L. Once these problems were solved, legionella was controlled consistently, with only low positives counts occurrences in 2013. Monthly monitoring of outlets has showed no positive result for 15 months, between January 2014 and April 2015.

Figure 1 – Number of samples tested and number and percentages of positive samples for legionella between Aug 2011 and April 2015 in a UK hospital.

It was concluded that: legionella could not be effectively controlled using a temperature regime alone, even when temperature was maintained at below 20 °C or at above 55 °C; and that copper and silver ionisation was effective for legionella control provided the system was regularly monitored to ensure the required concentration of ions was maintained, so that potential legionella sources, such as build-up of biofilms in rubber-lined hoses, were dealt with as soon as detected.

The Copper & Silver Ionisation System

I have also published this as a LinkedIn article.

Link to abstract of the original peer reviewed article

 

Keeping the lights on and saving the planet

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I finally found some time to write about an event organised by the South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth branch, which took place in Leighton Buzzard on Saturday, 26th November 2016. The event was very well attended and the presentation by Neil Witney, Senior Policy Advisor for the Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy entitled ‘Keeping the lights on and saving the planet’ was informative and gave the audience a good idea of the steps the government in the UK is taking to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emission.

Neil talked about the problem at a global level, what is going well in the UK, where the UK need to take further action, and how local action can help. I have given below some of the points he discussed  in his presentation. This is by no means a comprehensive account of the whole presentation, but some of the points raised.

At a global level, 2016 saw the extent of the Arctic wintertime sea ice hit another record low and 2015 was the warmest year on record yet. To make matters worse, the next two decades will see global energy consumption increase substantially, which will mean an increase in CO2 emissions considering fossil fuel is still the main source of energy in many industrial countries.

What is the UK doing to reduce CO2 emissions

Diagram 1 below, from the presentation, shows CO2 emitted by the different sectors from 1990 to 2015. Decreases in UK CO2 emissions was greatest in industry, power and waste sectors, while transport, buildings and agriculture have not shown much decrease.
 CO2 emissions by sectors.pngDiagram 1 – CO2 emitted by various sectors in the UK

The  data below, also from the presentation, shows how much electricity was generated from renewable sources in the UK in 2015. Of a total of 337,700 GWh only 66,460 GWh (less than 20% of the total) came from renewables, which isn’t great, but it is a step in the right direction. It can be seen that energy from wind was the main source, followed by plant biomass.

Renewables electricity generation in 2015:

Total wind generation – 40,310 GWh

Plant biomass 18,587 GWh

Solar photovoltaics 7,561 GWh

Shoreline wave/tidal 2 GWh

Of total of : 337,700 GWh


Where does the UK need to take further action?

The UK managed to reduce CO2 emissions from 103 Mt in 1990 to 85 Mt in 2015. However, the target for 2050 is to lower CO2 emissions much further to 19 Mt CO2. Space heating accounts for around 38% of CO2 emissions in the UK and, in 2013 space and water heating accounted for 66% of the energy used in households. This means that if we are to meet the UK’s 2050 obligations, we will need to achieve complete decarbonisation of heat and this will be achievable only if we act now. Renewables sources are clearly one way to achieve this and another suggested way to help achieve this is smart-grid and smart meters. smart-gridSee this video

The Committee on Climate Change stated that:

“Progress in improving the energy efficiency of buildings has stalled since 2012:… Take-up of heat pumps and low-carbon district heating remains minimal…

Clear, consistent and credible policies are needed across these areas that are attractive to owners and landlords of both homes and workplaces, that overcome behavioural barriers and that can build up skills and supply chains…”

How can local action help?

  • Local action in relation to planning – engaging with the local plan.
  • Looking at the needs of the building stock as a whole, including energy efficiency, low carbon heating and electricity generation.
  • Building by building – planning to improve individual buildings next time they are reviewed.

During questions at the end, which was chaired by Andrew Selous, MP, it became clear that some action is being taken locally and a few people also gave suggestions on how to reduce emissions locally. For example, making sure new housing development use electricity from renewables. It appears that Leighton Buzzard is fortunate to have one of the largest capacity to store electricity compared to other UK towns. We also have a windmill and the solar farm nearby generating electricity. Victoria Harvey, from the local Friends of the Earth even suggested we might be in a position to export our renewable energy to other parts of the UK and Neil thinks this might be a possibility. One point which was made by Neil and Andrew Selous was that if people have ideas or concerns, they should let the council or MP know, by writing to them or doing petitions, because they are not psychic.

How do we power the UK?

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If you live in Central Bedfordshire, UK, and you care about environmental issues, this is a must-attend event, ‘How do we power the UK’. The event was organised by the South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth and it will be chaired by the South West Bedfordshire MP, Andrew Selous. The guest speaker is Neil Witney, Senior Policy Advisor for the Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The local energy expert Esther Clarke will speak about what we can do locally.

The event takes place this coming Saturday, 26th November 2016, and we are hoping that many locals from Leighton Buzzard, Central Bedfordshire, and the surrounding area will attend. I certainly will.

Keeping the Buzz in Leighton Buzzard – Part 2

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bees-flowers

Most of us know that bees are under threat in many parts of the world, including the UK, where pesticides are the main threat. Without bees to pollinate our crops and flowering plants, our entire food system would also be under threat. There are many groups around the UK doing a lot of work to save bees from extinction. In my town, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, Friends of the Earth (FoE) local group has led a very successful campaign to increase our bees’ population (see my previous blog). On 29th September 2016, Paul De Zylva from national FoE, who designed and led the Bee Cause Campaign came to talk to the Leighton Buzzard local group, who has been working hard to create bee-friendly habitats.

Summary of Paul De Zylva’s talk by Ken Barry from local FoE

Paul de Zylva of national FoE gave an enthusiastic talk to a gathering of 15  people who have all been working on South Beds Friends of the Earth Bee-friendly Campaign.

Paul started his FoE career in a local group in Croydon. He stressed that FoE are very reliant on local groups and we should never underestimate what we are doing or what we can achieve just because our actions may be local. The work of FoE is all about the accumulation of little connections, not about numbers. Paul has stressed this in meetings with government ministers. The more local the actions, the more credible and successful they are.

We are in an area where more bee habitats have been created than anywhere else in the country. This does not just benefit bees but lots of other species. Plants can also be pollinated by ladybirds, hoverflies, and moths. We should help all species to thrive. FoE has always been involved in protecting and saving wildlife, starting with their campaign to save the Whales. Paul suggested that, as well as our other important campaigning, we should all get back to supporting nature. If we look after natural resources we look after ourselves. The best example of this is in alleviating flooding, by protecting natural habitats.

Bees have become a fantastic proxy for the whole of nature. Our urban areas can be improved and the small things we do can help. Signing petitions is great but this also needs to be backed up by local action by groups such as ours. FoE has achieved great things nationally such as the Climate Change Act and the National Pollinator Strategy, which set out a 10-year plan to help pollinating insects survive and thrive, but we are not reliant on the government. We need to work for our local environment and tell people and show them what we are doing. As we know, small town politics can be a bind but we should not be put off. We should expect officialdom to be very tricky at times, but we can work round it, with clever use of social media.

As cuts hit we may have to fill the gap and should not do this for nothing. We need to maintain a power to bargain. We can have the advantage and negotiate real partnerships but working to our definitions.

FoE is still working to guess what the future holds as a result of Brexit. Even the government does not know what will happen. What will be the future for CAP and the Common Fisheries Policy, Habitats Directive and the Defence of Nature. All the other NGOs dealing with wildlife are in the same position e.g. RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts, but they are continuing to work with their European colleagues.

Nature is very much under threat at the moment and this has been highlighted by the recent State of Nature Report. Three out of five species are in long-term decline including many species of bees. We need more subsidies to encourage wildlife-friendly farming. This is a chance for us to make reasonable demands. People,in general, want to see more and better nature on a daily basis.

Protecting nature is just as important as decent healthcare and public transport. We may be in the majority but we have not convinced everybody yet. We need to talk more to people and be more persuasive. The third anniversary of the neonicotinoids ban is approaching and FoE is to publicize this. A report is expected from the government’s Food Safety Committee in January/February 2017. Nature is not a luxury, it is everyone’s right!

Many people across Leighton Buzzard are involved in helping create and maintain habitats for bees and were present at Paul De Zylva’s talk including: Tony Tompkins from the Narrow Gauge railway who are replanting their wildflower area with help from the local FoE and a grant from national FoE; Pippa Sandford who looks after the Linslade Memorial Gardens; Roy who looks after the orchard and the river and also does all the publicity and printing; Daphne who does all the photography;  Rory who is the local wildlife expert and who has done wildlife surveys; Gennaore Borrelli,  who has a bee-friendly garden behind his shop ‘A touch of Class’ on Bridge street; and  Peter Hanley who looks after the site by Woodman Close.

Follow this link to join Friends of the Earth Bee Cause.