Let’s Talk About Climate Change

climate change

Many questions surround climate change and its effects. One question that has a clear answer: climate change is real. (Photo credit: ALAN DAWSON PHOTOGRAPHY/Alamy Images)

What is climate change? What evidence supports climate change? What role do humans play in climate change? Read on to find the answers to these questions and a few other frequently-asked questions about this topic. [Read more…]

Dealing with Waste in Antarctica

Antarctic penguins

Though it is the most pristine continent on Earth, human activities are polluting Antarctica. (Photo credit: ©Photodynamic/Shutterstock)

Given Antarctica’s geographic isolation and extreme climate conditions, is has long been an area of interest to scientists. But what happens to all the waste generated by the annual influx of scientists and their support staff? [Read more…]

The Plight of the Tasmanian Devil

Tasmanian devil

Tasmanian devils are currently threatened by a cancerous facial disease. (Photo credit: ©FiledIMAGE/Shutterstock)

Tasmania, an island located off the southeastern coast of Australia, is home to the Tasmanian devil. Unlike the human adult sized cartoon version, the real Tasmanian devil is only 20-31 inches (51-79 cm) tall and weighs between 9 and 26 pounds (4-12 kg).

While fossil evidence indicates that Tasmanian devils were once found on the Australian mainland, research indicates that the animals went extinct there 400 years ago due to increasingly arid conditions and the spread of the dingo, a type of wild dog. Tasmanian devils were nearly hunted to extinction on Tasmania during the late 1800s and early 1900s as they were considered to be pests by early settlers. The animals were placed under formal legislative protection in June 1941.

Though the Tasmanian devil bears no resemblance to its cartoon counterpart, it does share its terrible disposition. When the animal feels threatened, its puts on an aggressive display of growling, lunging, and baring its teeth. It earned its “devil” name from early settlers after hearing its “otherworldly” scream. However, while it may be aggressive to potential predators, Tasmanian devils tend to be fairly timid and are typically not a threat to people.

Tasmanian devils are nocturnal animals, which means they are active at night. They are carnivorous and generally feed on birds, snakes, fish, insects, and the remains of dead animals. They do not let any food go to waste – they eat the bones, tissue, muscles, and organs of their prey.

Like kangaroos and wombats, Tasmanian devils are marsupials. The animals breed once a year in March. After a three-week gestation period, between 20 and 30 rice-sized young are born. The young, called imps, must race to their mother’s pouch to claim one of her four teats; the majority are too slow and do not survive. The young devils stay in their mother’s pouch for four months, after which they are carried on their mother’s back. The young are fully grown after about nine months.

While in the mid 1990s, there was a surge in the Tasmanian devil population, that time period also coincided with the appearance of a disease called devil facial tumor disease (DFTD). This cancerous disease causes tumors to form on the animal’s face, which makes it difficult for it to eat, leading to starvation. Since 2001, the Tasmanian devil population has declined 60 percent.

Scientists are working to save the species from extinction. To do so, they are sequestering healthy populations to prevent the spread of disease. They are also focusing on captive-breeding programs. Currently, over 20 Australian organizations are involved in captive-breeding efforts and more than 600 Tasmanian devils have been bred in captivity.

More to Explore
Tasmanian Devil Natural History
Tasmanian Devil FAQs
Save the Tasmanian Devil
National Geographic: Tasmanian Devil

Country: Australia
Location: Australia is located on the Oceania continent, which is found between the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific Ocean.
Area: 7,741,220 sq km (land and water) (slightly smaller than the 48 contiguous United States)
Climate: Arid to semi-arid; temperate in the southern and eastern portions of the country and tropical in the northern portions of the country
Terrain: Mainly low desert plateaus; fertile plains in the southeast
Natural Resources: bauxite, coal, copper, diamonds, gold, iron ore, lead, natural gas, nickel, silver, tungsten, uranium, petroleum
Economics: $998.3 billion (est. 2013)
Environmental Issues: Soil erosion, urbanization, desertification, habitat destruction (land and marine)
CIA – The World Factbook

Scientists Closer to Predicting Volcano Eruptions

volcano monitoring

Measuring gas emissions is key to predicting volcanic eruptions. (Photo credit: Konstantina Sidiropoulou/Alamy Stock Photo)

Every month, an average of 40 volcanoes erupt on land into the atmosphere, and hundreds of others on the seafloor erupt into the ocean. Predicting when these eruptions will occur is nearly impossible. Scientists associated with the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) and Deep Earth Carbon Degassing (DECADE) initiative are setting the stage to make accurate volcanic eruption forecasts a reality. [Read more…]

Scientists Solve Mystery of Deadly 1952 London Fog

double-decker bus in London fog

Visibility was reduced to less than three feet in parts of the city during the killer London Fog event of 1952 (Photo credit: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Though London is well known for its overcast and foggy weather, the fog that enveloped the city for four days in 1952 was a fog like no other. By the time the fog lifted, at least 4000 people were dead and more than 100,000 people had been hospitalized. In addition, thousands of animals, including many livestock, also died. What caused this particularly deadly fog has long been unknown. Now scientists think they have finally solved the mystery behind the killer fog. Their findings may help prevent a similar event from occurring in modern-day China, which is home to 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world. [Read more…]

Kauai’s Hawaiian Honeycreepers On the Brink of Extinction


Kauai’s native honeycreeper population is facing extinction. (Photo credit: Sami Sarkis/Photographer’s Choice RF/Getty Images)

New research indicates that six of seven native forest birds found on the island of Kauai in Hawaii are quickly disappearing from the landscape and their range is rapidly contracting. All six of these species are honeycreepers, and four are only found in small, remote locations. The reason for this collapse, as reported in an article in the journal Science Advances, is the spread of avian malaria by mosquitoes. The mosquitoes have been able to expand their territory upward due to climate change and global warming. [Read more…]

Battling Boat Barnacles with Biology

man removing barnacles from boat

Barnacle buildup reduces boat performance. (Photo credit: Ingemar Magnusson/Alamy)

Barnacles and other sealife stuck to the bottom of a boat not only doesn’t look all that great, but it’s not a good thing for the boat’s performance, either. [Read more…]

Water Scarcity in Egypt

Egyptian landscape

Water scarcity is expected to be a major issue in Egypt in the upcoming years. (Photo credit: Lin Sen/Shutterstock)

Egypt, located in northeastern Africa, has an arid climate. Only 6 percent of the country is arable and agricultural land; the rest of the country is desert. Over the past 60 years, Egypt’s population has grown by more than 60 million people. Researchers suggest that by 2050, the population could reach between 120 and 150 million.   Given Egypt’s growing population and its arid climate, environmental scientists warn a water crisis is quickly approaching.

The main source of fresh water in Egypt is the Nile River. While the country is positioned at the end of the river’s flow, through agreements with Sudan, Egypt is entitled to 55.5 billion cubic meters of water per year. In Egypt, the Aswan High Dam, built in the 1960s, controls the flow of the Nile River.

Little rainfall occurs in Egypt. Most rains occur during the winter along the country’s coastal region. The total amount of rainfall ranges between 80 and 200 mm per year. Because of the unpredictability of precipitation, it cannot be relied upon as a source of fresh water.

Groundwater in Egypt is stored in aquifers, but due to their deepness and relative inaccessibility, groundwater is also not a reliable source of water. Desalination of the sea is another potential source of fresh water. However, the process is only currently economically viable in tourist developments along the Red Sea, where the value of fresh water is so high that it is enough to cover the cost of desalination.

As the population in Egypt grows, so too does the demand for fresh water. Research indicates that by the year 2020, Egypt will be consuming 20 percent more water than is available. Experts warn that this extreme scarcity could lead to political instability.

Another water issue faced in Egypt is the availability of clean water. Along the river’s course, the Nile is heavily polluted by agricultural runoff, industrial effluent, and municipal sewage. Managing these sources of pollution will be key to ensuring access to clean water for the Egyptian population.

While the future may appear bleak, there are a few measures that can be taken now to help ensure there is water in the future. Because the agricultural sector uses the most water, it is also the area where more water could be conserved. Many farmers utilize flood irrigation to water their crops; experts recommend switching to drip irrigation, which would decrease the amount of water lost to evaporation. Switching to more water-efficient crops would also use less water. Changing planting dates to coincide better with natural climate patterns, such as planting cotton during cooler months rather than hotter ones, could also help to reduce the total amount of irrigation needed.

More to Explore
RISE Encourages Local Farmer Strategies to Combat Water Scarcity
Egypt’s Water Crisis – Recipe for Disaster
Water Scarcity in Egypt: The Urgent Need for Regional Cooperation among the Nile Basin Countries
Water Issue in Egypt: Resources, Pollution and Protection Endeavors

Country: Egypt
Location: Egypt is located in northern Africa. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Libya to the west, and the Red Sea, Gaza Strip, and Israel to the east, and Sudan to the south.
Area: 1,001,450 square kilometers. It is about eight times the size of Ohio.
Climate: Egypt has a desert climate that features hot, dry summers and moderate winters.
Terrain: The terrain of Egypt mostly consists of desert plateau.
Natural Resources: Asbestos, gypsum, iron ore, lead, limestone, limited freshwater resources, manganese, natural gas, petroleum, phosphates, rare earth elements, talc, zinc
Economics: $551.4 billion (2013 estimate)
Environmental Issues: Desertification, growing human population, oil pollution, urbanization, water pollution
CIA – The World Factbook

While EcoZine is on summer vacation, we are posting articles from the archives. This article first appeared in March 2015.

Indonesia’s Ferocious Komodo Dragon

komodo dragon

The komodo dragon is a reptile endemic to Indonesia’s Lesser Sundra Islands. (Photo credit: Wolfgang Kaehler/Alamy)

The Komodo dragon, like its name suggests, is a ferocious animal. It is the largest lizard in the world—as an adult it may grow to a length of ten feet and weigh over 150 pounds. [Read more…]

Coral Reef Bleaching Devastating Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

diver assesses coral bleaching

The Great Barrier Reef is experiencing severe coral bleaching this year. (Photo credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey)

Coral reef bleaching is occurring at an unprecedented rate on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. A recent aerial survey of 911 reefs by Australia’s National Coral Bleaching Task Force found evidence of bleaching on 93 percent of the reefs. The damage is most severe in the Great Barrier Reef’s northern section, where no reef has escaped bleaching. To put this in perspective, the bleaching is currently affecting an area about the size of the state of Maine. [Read more…]