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Arctic Mining Blocked, Saving Narwhals

The Arctic has been targeted for a long time as a rich zone for mineral harvesting and mining if one has the right equipment for the hostile environment. However, what has prevented even the sturdiest of companies from ripping into the region has been predominantly government restrictions. In the latest blow to the mining interests targeting the North Pole area, an iron ore mine expansion has been fully blocked, primarily to protect the presence of local narwhal that would have otherwise been driven from the area.

Baffinland Iron Mines Corp had been pushing for an expansion of its existing Arctic iron ore mine, which would have created an increased traffic flow of shipping as well. That was long feared to be a risk that would have effectively driven the remaining narwhal from the area. After a multi-year review and debate on the matter, the Nunavut Impact Review Board finalized its decision on the matter and blocked the proposal entirely. The review concluded that, while the location on the northern side of Baffin Island would easily maximize one of the richest ore sites available, it would have also directly and negatively damaged the biggest narwhal population existing to date as well.

For many, the proposal was expected to eventually get through. The work would have meant additional jobs, increased economic flow and more mining expansion in the area, all factors that typically end up winning over the survival of affected animals. So when the decision came down in the favor of the narwhals and not the mining company, many conservationists and community narwhal proponents were pleasantly shocked.

It was clear to the Board the community and conservation efforts were adamantly against the expansion of a company that only harvested from the area and was not part of that community per se. The Board said as much in its decision, pointing specifically to the expected negative damage the expansion would have resulted in with regards to the local marine life as well as land biology as well. And, as an added measure, the local community’s survival and food sources were thrown in for good measure as well.

The above said, the matter is not completely ended. Canada’s northern affairs minister, Dan Vandal, now gets to hear the appeal and either side with the Board or veer to Baffinland’s proposal. That will come out in 90 days’ time. No surprise, significant lobbying effort and advocacy will be put into motion to obtain a reversal in favor of Baffinland’s interests.

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Doubling-Up Solar Use and Protecting Water Simultaneously

Renee Yates

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Put water out in the hot sun, and it will eventually disappear. Evaporation causes water to turn into gas and the same dissipates upward until it becomes condensate and rains back down. While this is part of how nature recycles moisture, for farming and water supplies, evaporation is a serious loss.

California is ground zero for agricultural drought and strained water systems, especially in 2022, facing another drought period in less than a decade. Much of the state’s water is moved through a canal system, taking the moisture from the wetter north to provide water supply to the Central Valley and the Southern California region. However, while a tremendous amount of water moves everyday through the statewide canal system, a good portion of it is lost to evaporation as well as being directly exposed to the sun.

To solve the water loss problem partially as well as create a solar farm that generates easy energy, Turlock Irrigation District has invested some $20 million in creating serious solar panel covers for water canals traveling through the Turlock area. Two locations will have the construction applied, one being a 500-foot long section, and the other a much bigger stretch measuring a mile in distance. The project is being watched closely for success. If it works, there’s a significant interest in keeping it going and adding to the effort.

California as a state is criss-crossed by 4,000 miles of water canals. Just on a space-basis alone, covering that network with solar panels could generate at least thirteen gigawatts of new energy daily. That would generate enough electricity for almost 10 million homes (9.75 million to be exact). The energy generation would be huge; right now there are 13.1 million homes statewide.

California won’t be the first to apply solar panels over its water canals; that honor goes to India. However, if the project is successful, California will definitely hold the title to the biggest related project globally if the second mile-long part gets completed. Dubbed Project Nexus for both parts combined, Turlock’s goal is to build and apply solar panel covers or canopies over the water canals themselves, as well as hooking them up to the power grid. The project is to start this year in Fall 2022 and expected completion is in 2024.

The panels are expected to have a direct impact on evaporation as well in a two-fold manner. First, their function as a cover breaks up the heat effect of the sun directly on the water in the canal. Second, the structures break up the wind factor, which can also create a drying effect as well. That means more water stays in liquid form and gets to its destination by traveling through the canal system. The difference matters; some 80 percent of water that is sourced in California goes to Southern California to sustain that region, after already providing sufficient supply for folks up north. Just from the hot sun exposure alone, up to 2 percent of the total is lost before the water arrives in the South. Adding some of that back in can be a gamechanger in supply, to the tune of 65 billion gallons a year.

The benefits are big stakes. If the project works, it could be the impetus to covering all of California’s canals. And that could save and that could produce some 50,000 acres of hydrated farming soil or supply water to another 2 million people. That is in addition to the electricity benefits noted above. The world is changing, and folks visiting California and driving down Interstate 5 and other areas may see it first hand with Project Nexus and more.

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Schools Realize Pollution Protection from Hedges

Kelly Taylor

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While plants and trees are regularly used in some types of landscaping for schools, at least to define their property perimeter, not much is used within the school grounds unless it happens to be out in the country in a private prep style master plan. However, that may change. A new study has confirmed that a significant number of plants in and around a school goes a long way in helping cut down ambient pollution affecting kids, particularly exhaust from nearby traffic.

Scientists spent some time and specific examination of the effect of air pollution exposure on school children. In specific tests, they compared the amount of pollution from roadside sources with normal school environments versus those that specifically had roadside vegetation as barriers to protect schools. The findings confirmed a significant difference in the amount of pollution the kids in a given school were being exposed to.

Roadside pollution generally travels through the air and directly affects air quality for those breathing in the vicinity. While building HVAC systems can filter out quite a bit, it becomes useless in a school setting where kids take their breaks outside in the school yards and sports fields. In these cases, children who are still developing are being exposed daily to toxic fumes that are known to produce carcinogenic effects over time. This is seen dramatically in countries with poor air quality control and massive smog problems.

Lancaster University researchers focused on the effects of tredges, essentially an adult-height hedge plant system installed at a trio of Manchester grade schools in 2019. The work was done during the summer holidays, which provided a clean time break and a point of starting for measurement and metrics when the kids returned in the fall.

Each school had different types of plant barriers to measure the efficacy of the plant type versus others. One had an ivy screen, another red cedar, and another with regular mixed plant hedges. The ivy screen school definitely reduced the amount of particulates floating towards kids, but it was a poor barrier to black carbon. On the other hand, the mixed plant hedges reduced air pollution far more. The clean red cedar tredges, however, were the most effective. These plantings cut black carbon transfer by half, or 49 percent, and either a half or a fourth of two different particular types, 46 percent and 26 percent respectively. All of the tredges, regardless of mix or plant, cut down pollution spikes effectively, a common problem during commute gluts on nearby roads.

The local Manchester City Council as well as non-profits helped fund the work and research, as well as the supplies and planting for the tredges, including running education workshops for the neighborhoods on what was being done, why and the benefits. The impact plus the research is definitely being looked at, raising eyebrows as well as interest in applying the lessons to schools in the area and further, particularly in advocating for greener infrastructure and land use planning in the future.

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Scientists Identify a Real Hair-Growing Molecule

Renee Yates

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Research on how to restore lost hair has been chased at for years. It’s also been the butt of many jokes and the medium for more than a handful of scams. The idea of a hair loss cure goes back to the wild, wild West when snakeoil shucksters traveled from town to town offering bottles of anything promising it was a cure for male baldness. The problem, it turned out, was that hair loss wasn’t just limited to men. Women suffered the loss as well on a regular basis. It was just hidden more often with wigs.

In modern times, multiple companies have tried to launch hair loss products with limited success. Some of those chemicals also tend to have harsh side effects as well for users. In short, there hasn’t been a natural, positive solution for the problem. And sufferers of androgenetic alopecia have it extremely hard, losing hair in greater amounts without a cure.

Researchers at the University of California – Irvine have been trying to tackle the hair loss issue proactively, potentially coming up with a solution in their latest research results. Specifically, the work has focused attention on the SCUBE3 molecule, an ingredient that plays an important role in affecting how hair grows or does not.

Hair growth in people is controlled by the dermal papilla cell structure. These cells turn on or turn off cellular division that, in turn, impacts the activity of hair follicles. It’s been known for years that the papilla cells were the engine of the process, but it wasn’t clear where the ignition key was located to start that engine. Utilizing a very different paradigm approach in their research, the UC Irvine team steered away from the traditional research already well-tried and instead looked at how the cells communicated to each other chemically.

The SCUBE3 molecule is instrumental in carrying the messages or signals from the papilla cells to their neighboring cells that then trigger hair growth. SCUBE3 is produced naturally by the same papilla cells, so understanding how to control the molecule has been identified as the key in controlling how to turn on hair growth as well.

In folks who are suffering from the aforementioned alopecia condition, the triggering chemicals are not present or malfunction. As a result, hair loss occurs and no new growth happens to replace that loss. However, when SCUBE3 is intentionally controlled, excessive hair growth can be stimulated, as has been proven in lab mice used for research on the matter. Subsequent testing confirmed the same logic and research applied to human hair cells as well. While nowhere near ready for use by the consumer market, much less prescribed application, SCUBE3 manipulation as shown by the UC Irvine research has significant promise for being a hair-growth gamechanger.

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Sydney Race Roars Back After COVID

Kelly Taylor

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COVID took out a lot of things on an international level, and there’s no question that Australia was not an exception. Despite the country trying extremely hard to keep COVID out of it, the virus still had an impact. For two years, just like the rest of the world, Sydney was under clampdown, dealing with social restrictions and barred from enjoying normal life.

Traditionally, Sydney was home to a massive street run dubbed City2Surf. From a local perspective, the run is considered the world’s largest running party, even bigger than San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers. Running over 14 kilometers, every participant who completes the run makes their way from Hyde Park all the way to Bondi Beach. In standard terms, that’s almost 9 miles of pavement pounding. Thousands would participate every year to join in the fun.

However, during COVID, the City2Surf run was cancelled, just like every other big social event that involved some kind of public gathering. However, fast-forward to now, in 2022, COVID has waned but still makes people sick. It’s survivable and extremely annoying, like the flu, versus something deadly like the Black Plague. And that means the return of City2Surf.

As the event was announced, it was more than just another annual run. Instead, this time around, City2Surf has become a symbolic return to normality. And to show just how much people wanted that return, a whopping 60,000 participants showed up to make the 14 km run.

Of course, City2Surf wasn’t going to be a normal run. Lots of folks showed up in costumes and decorations. There were plenty of running dinosaurs, some were nutty enough to be in gorilla costumes, and stars were very popular as well. Ultimately, being a formal race, there were going to be serious competitors. Liam Adams was declared the winner, finishing the course in 8 seconds over 41 minutes. Leanne Pompeani won the women’s title, finishing in 45 minutes and 43 seconds.

The race running also meant the return of support for multiple charities that have enjoyed financial help from the race proceeds since 1971. While there was an attempt to operate a “virtual” event, it wasn’t the same the last two years. However, with the City2Surf return in 2022, everyone is pretty much in agreement. Sydney feels a bit more like home again. More importantly, people were able to enjoy a public event again in Australia after two years of isolation.

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U.S. Efforts Aim for 1 Billion Trees

Renee Yates

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A few years ago, the federal government was getting a lot of flak from the conservationist community regarding allowing the Two Bears National Monument in the Four Corners area of the Southwest to be opened up to mineral harvesting. How times have changed. Now, the same entity with different leadership has laid out an aggressive goal to plant 1 billion new trees by a 10-year target date.

The tree-planting effort will become an ongoing project within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The standard tree-planting to replace forests lost to fires and similar has been the responsibility of the U.S. Forest Service. That program is currently looking at a backlog of 4.1 million acres of land to be addressed. The new target is far bigger than current resources are capable of producing, so the ramped-up program comes with new funding and a hard push in progress. Under the REPLANT Act, as well as additional authorization in the Infrastructure Act, the USDA will now have the means to proactively close up the deficit and restore both forests and nurseries with healthy stock over the next decade.

The overall primary goal involves responding to climate change with nature’s powerhouse. Adding hundreds of thousands of trees pumps massive amounts of oxygen back into the atmosphere, creating the necessary buffer and offset to carbon dioxide, the classic greenhouse gas. Once the trees are established and growing, they practically take care of themselves aside from fire risk and landslides. The same helps replace the loss of burned ground and old growth that can’t be brought back from damage.

The expected replanting efforts will cover a wide range of exposure areas, from watershed restoration to carbon sequestration. $11 billion in new revenue is expected from restored wilderness areas via recreation tourism over time, and disaster mitigation also saves on costs otherwise expected from flooding, erosion, mudslides and lost agriculture.

Like most federal programs starting out, the start will be slow and increase steadily. The initial output is a modest 60,000 acres covered with new trees so far. As time progresses, that figure is expected in plans to reach up to a healthy output of 400,000 acres/year. A commensurate increase in annual spending to fund the activity is expected as well, moving from the current $100 million on reforestation growing to $260,000 at the program’s full annual capacity.

The job is a big one. Eight out of ten trees planted is replacing those burnt up in previous wildfires alone. 2020 and 2021 have not been gentle years in terms of forest inventory preservation. As forests continue to dwindle in size due to fires, climate change in affected regions is expected to intensify going forward. Drought, pests taking advantage of stressed trees, and loss of water retention all add to making the problem worse in stripped areas. Ergo, putting new trees back is expected to reverse this negative downward spiral.

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