Sciences – Daily News Egypt Egypt’s Only Daily Independent Newspaper In English Fri, 26 Jul 2019 18:54:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Climate change threatens adaptation capability of 17 animal species Wed, 24 Jul 2019 19:50:50 +0000 We should switch to green energy, reduce air flights, meat consumption, says new study

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Animal species are trying to adapt to warming temperatures by advancing their laying dates. Such “phenologic” responses in an animal’s life cycle, including breeding and migration, are adaptable to different climatic conditions, meaning that they have fitness benefits, for example, achieving the highest breeding output.

However, a new study suggests that climate is changing to the point where it is difficult for some animal species to be able to adjust quickly enough to match the rate of change.

The study was published on Tuesday in the Nature Communications journal and prepared by researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin, Germany.

To assess the animal species’ response to climate change, researchers used more than 10,000 scientific summaries and 71 studies covering 17 species in 13 countries, especially birds.

Although some species offer seasonal life cycles in response to high temperatures, these adaptive changes may not occur at a rate that ensures long-term survival of some species. The study shows that some species can adapt to climate change by changing their life cycle, but only if there is enough genetic variation or flexibility in their behaviour and evolution.

Populations of European roe deer, song sparrow, common murre, and Eurasian magpie were among those at risk.

Climate change has meant that species’ historical phenology is mismatched to the current climate. Species can potentially respond by altering their phenology, but only if there is sufficient genetic variation or plasticity in their behaviour and development.

Viktoriia Radchuk, from the IZW and first author of the paper, told Daily News Egypt that the study shows that bird species respond to warming temperatures by advancing their laying dates. Such earlier phenological responses are adaptive, meaning they are associated with fitness benefits, for example higher reproductive output. 

However, these adaptive responses are not sufficient to ensure long-term species’ persistence. So, even though species adapt to climate change, the pace of such responses is not fast enough to guarantee population viability.


“We conducted a systematic literature review and identified more than 10,000 abstracts satisfying our search criteria. Next, we skimmed these abstracts to identify the studies that report all the data necessary to assess whether the species’ responses to climate change are adaptive,” she said.  

Radchuk added that she and her team then either extracted the needed data directly from the publications or contacted the authors of the original studies and asked them to share the data with us. This data was then analysed by a meta-analysis type of statistical analysis that allows for making inferences across the studies on different species and different locations.


The researcher noted that their findings are important because they have demonstrated that phenological responses (for example, the responses related to the timing of biological events, for example egg laying) of birds to climate change are, on average, adaptive. Previous studies demonstrated that, across many taxa, phenology is shifting to earlier dates in response to climate change, but we did not know whether such phenological shifts are adaptive, whether they correspond to fitness benefits. 

“Here we could show that for many species such earlier phenological responses associated with climate change correspond to fitness benefits, and thus, are adaptive. However, the significance of our findings lay in the fact that, although species show adaptive responses, they are not fast enough to ensure population persistence on the long term. So, despite phenological responses being adaptive, the populations of the majority of study species are at risk,” Radchuk explained. 


The first ideas of the paper started forming during the workshop “Species adaptations to global change – a comprehensive risk assessment” in Potsdam (7-8 December 2014), which was led by the study’s co-author Kirsten Thonicke, according to Radchuk. 

“That winter, I also started with the literature search and abstract skimming. The analyses and writing up were finished at the end of 2017. Then it took us some rejections and a few rounds of revisions until the paper was finally accepted in May 2019. So, all together it took around four and a half years from the initiation of this study until its acceptance,” said Radchuk. 


Explaining the way in which animals can respond sufficiently to climate change, the author said, “By tracking perfectly the shifting optimum phenotype, which is caused by changing climate. However, our study shows that this tracking is imperfect, so that the phenotypic changes are not happening as fast as would be needed to track the shifting optimum phenotype.”

Regarding the most affected species, the study focused on the species for which the researchers found the publications reporting all the data necessary to assess whether the responses were adaptive. The literature search demonstrated that such data are predominantly available for birds, therefore our conclusions are based on bird species and only a mammal species. 

The researcher’s dataset included 17 species and this is not a large enough sample to cover species with different life history traits, therefore we could not assess whether there are particular traits that are associated with species being more at risk. Also, the majority of the studies are coming from the northern hemisphere, so we do not know whether these conclusions would hold for the species from southern hemisphere. 

Importantly, the researchers show that for majority of the studied species the actual lag behind the optimum phenotype exceeds the critical lag, indicating substantial extinction risk. “What is worrisome is that our study species are mainly common ones, so that the conclusions for rare species will likely be even more pessimistic,” noted Radchuk.

In order to save the species, we should aim to halt, if not reduce, the rate of climate change, according to the researcher. She explained that there are different ways to achieve this task, and these ways depend on whether we are talking about what a single individual can do or about the country-level or international efforts. Among the things that each of us can do are switching to green energy to warm our houses and for travelling, reducing air flights to a minimum, and decreasing our meat consumption.

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Ministers of environment, local development, discuss new waste management system Tue, 23 Jul 2019 18:22:59 +0000 Fouad stressed importance of supporting youth initiatives 

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The Minister of Environment, Yasmine Fouad, discussed on Tuesday the issue of waste management with the Minister of Local Development, Mahmoud Shaarawi. 

During the meeting, the two ministers agreed to continue coordination between the two ministries in implementing the new waste management system, especially with regard to the role of the ministry of local development in implementing the necessary infrastructure in the governorates.

Fuad explained that the two sides agreed on the implementation of projects in communities most affected by climate change, which will provide new employment opportunities for young people, support recycling and waste management and raise awareness of children and young people of good practices for the preservation of the environment.

For his part, the minister of local development stressed the importance of educating civil society about the new waste system and its different phases and presenting the success stories of different youth in the waste recycling field.

He pointed out that the implementation of this new system depends on the concerted efforts between the state and citizens and civil society organisations.

The minister stressed the need to support all community initiatives in this field, including the “board of directors of the street” Initiative, and “your voice” Initiative and “together we’ll grow” Initiative, stressing the importance of the positive role of citizens in the application of the new cleanliness system to ensure their success and sustainability.

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Planting 1bn hectares of forest could help save the Earth Wed, 17 Jul 2019 11:52:14 +0000 Recent study says planting billions of trees is best, cheapest way to stop climate change 

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Many scientists and global scientific bodies, notably the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), expect temperatures to rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.5 °C) above pre-industrial levels by 2030 if current global carbon emission trends continue.

But a recent study suggests trees can help curb climate destructiveness by planting nearly 1bn hectares of forest (0.9bn). According to a recent study published by Science Advances, this number of trees could remove two-thirds of human-caused carbon emissions into the Earth’s atmosphere since the 19th century. These new forests can store 205bn tonnes of carbon of the total of carbon emissions which are about 300 gigatonnes.

According to a study prepared by researchers from the National Centre for Oceanography in the UK, published by the Environmental Research Letters journal last July, in the absence of access to pre-industrial temperatures, floods caused by sea-level rise can cost humanity $14tn annually by 2100.

Spatial analysis

Planting billions of trees around the world is the best and cheapest way to tackle the climate crisis, especially since these trees can be planted without encroachment on crop land or urban areas, according to the study which is prepared by researchers from the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (ETH Zurich).

The study also suggests that there is greater potential for planting trees in agricultural and urban areas, giving city trees a key role in reducing the impacts of climate change. Researchers warn that increasing global warming could cut the area available for forest restoration by one-fifth by 2050.

“The study is the first of its kind to link the direct measurements of the number of trees with environmental characteristics to provide globally clear quantitative estimates of the expected tree cover,” said Thomas Crowther, from ETH Zurich and co-author of the study.


Using global data on soil and climate from satellite images, especially those provided by the open-access Google Earth software, researchers analysed tree cover in protected forest areas that were not significantly affected by human activity, from the Arctic tundra to tropical rainforests.

The research team analysed nearly 80,000 high-resolution satellite imagery and climate models to determine the number of trees suitable for each ecosystem by studying the properties of soil and climate.

Map of restoration

“The potential for tree planting can be done effectively throughout the world, as the potential exists literally everywhere in the world. The most fortunate areas for carbon capture are the tropics, where forests cover much of the region,” said Crowther. 

At the beginning of 2011, 48 countries joined the Bonn Challenge, which was launched in the German city of Bonn with the aim of planting 350m hectares of forest by 2030 and restoring 150m hectares of degraded land by 2020. But the research team found that more than 43% of these countries have committed to recovering less than half of the area suitable for forest planting, while only 10% have pledged to reclaim much more land suitable for forest growth.

According to the study, there are six major sites that make up only half of the proposed sites for planting forests in varying proportions depending on the size of each country and its climatic conditions and soil quality.


One of the world’s most suitable countries to apply this study is Russia where 151m hectares of trees can be planted, followed by the United States (103m), Canada (78.4m), Australia (58m), Brazil (49.7m), and China (40.2m).

The study warns that some of the current climate models have overshadowed a positive impact of climate change, claiming the increase of the global cover of trees. While there may be an increase in the area of ​​Arctic forests in coastal areas such as Siberia, the average tree cover is only 30-40%.

According to the current study, this is a very small gain when compared to losses in tree cover that will be caused by dense tropical forests, which usually have a tree cover density of 90-100%.

Alternative strategies

The researchers estimate that under current climatic conditions, the Earth’s soil could support 4.4bn hectares of tree cover, an increase of 1.6bn hectares trees from the current 2.8bn hectares of trees (within 5.5bn hectares of forest, covering the land).

According to the study, of the 1.6bn hectares, just 0.9bn hectares (bigger than the US) could remove two-thirds of the anthropogenic pollutants that have been emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere since the 19th century.

Forest farming will not only remove carbon, but it can also provide a host of additional benefits, including support for biodiversity, improved water quality, and reduced erosion processes which lead to coastal erosion due to the invasion of seawater.

Crowther pointed out that the cultivation of agricultural crops within the proposed forest area was not included in the calculations of the study.

The researcher expected the cost of growing a single tree to reach around $0.30, which means that the cost of the proposal could be as high as $300bn, a figure Crowther does not consider significant.

The study suggests that the planting of so many trees proposed in the study will take decades to grow new forests, so other solutions must be pursued to combat climate change and protect existing trees.

Joeri Rogelj, professor at the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Studies at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, said: “It is necessary to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to zero,” and that there are many ways to achieve this goal.

One of the most important of these is introducing cleaner alternatives, such as renewable energy, to replace the traditional energy pojects that causes emissions, such as coal-fired power plants, according to Rogelj, or combining them in so-called negative emission technologies.

Long term

Robin Chazdon, an environmental scientist at the University of Connecticut, said that the study is scientifically sound, but it shows only the extreme biological potential of tree growth in forests around the world. Forests do not necessarily grow in all places where this is biologically possible. There are many social and economic things to consider. Chazdon did not take part in the study.

“Forest restoration is one of the important solutions to mitigating the effects of climate change, reducing the risk of extinction of many species and reducing the water deficit,” added Chazdon, noting that “appropriate trees need to grow in the right place and in the right way, putting the local people into consideration”.

The researcher believes that the restoration of forests takes a long time, and it is not a quick solution to address climate change.

Pedro Brancalion, a professor of forest science at the University of São Paulo and a researcher who is not involved in the study, agrees with the opinion of Chazdon about the time required for forest restoration.

“The methodology used in the study is entirely new, but simple, and it gives a valuable contribution to understanding the current and potential distribution of trees on the ground,” Brancalion told Daily News Egypt.

The restoration of forests is essentially a human activity, not only related to natural and vital characteristics, but also to social and economic characteristics. Thus, “The study is very important to simulate the cover of trees and the impacts of climate change, but social and economic factors should be addressed in order to provide a realistic perspective for forest restoration,” he stressed.

In early July, Brancalion and Chazdon, together with others, also published a study in Science Advances that tropical forests in particular need to intensify recovery efforts. Tropical forests worldwide lose about 158,000 square metres per year, reaching their highest levels in 2016, by 259,260 square metres, according to the study.

As per a study published by the Nature Sustainability journal in February, China and India are world pioneers in greening the earth, where they absorb one-third of new forests, cropland, and other plant species monitored worldwide since 2000. According to the study, China alone holds a quarter of the world’s green area, although it contains only 6.3% of the world’s land area. The study found that 42% of China’s green areas come from forest expansion while 32% comes from farmland. In India, 82% of green areas come from new agricultural land.

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Lack of crop diversity, dependence on pollinators could threaten food security Wed, 10 Jul 2019 11:00:43 +0000 Researchers used annual data from FAO from 1961 to 2016

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A multinational team of researchers has identified countries where agriculture’s increasing dependence on pollination, coupled with a lack of crop diversity, may threaten food security and economic stability. 

The study, which was published recently in the Global Change Biology journal, is the first global assessment of the relationship between trends in crop diversity and agricultural dependence on pollinators.

Using annual data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) from 1961 to 2016, the study showed that the global area cultivated in crops that require pollination by bees and other insects expanded by 137%, while crop diversity increased by just 20.5%. 

This imbalance is a problem, according to the researchers, because agriculture dominated by just one or two types of crops only provides nutrition for pollinators during a limited window when crops are blooming. Maintaining agricultural diversity by cultivating a variety of crops that bloom at different times provides a more stable source of food and habitat for pollinators.

“This work should sound an alarm for policymakers who need to think about how they are going to protect and foster pollinator populations that can support the growing need for the services they provide to crops that require pollination,” said David Inouye, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Maryland and a co-author of the research paper.

Globally, a large portion of the total agricultural expansion and increase in pollinator dependence between 1961 and 2016 resulted from increases in large-scale farming of soybean, canola, and palm crops for oil. 

The researchers expressed concern over the increase in these crops because it indicates a rapid expansion of industrial farming, which is associated with environmentally damaging practices such as large monocultures and pesticide use which threaten pollinators and can undermine productivity.

Particularly vulnerable to potential agricultural instability are Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Bolivia, where expansion of pollinator-dependent soybean farms has driven deforestation and replaced rich biodiversity that supports healthy populations of pollinators with large-scale single-crop agriculture (monoculture). Malaysia and Indonesia face a similar scenario from the expansion of oil palm farming.

“Farmers are growing more crops that require pollination, such as fruits, nuts, and oil seeds, because there’s an increasing demand for them and they have a higher market value,” Inouye said, adding that “this study points out that these current trends are not great for pollinators, and countries that diversify their agricultural crops are going to benefit more than those that expand with only a limited subset of crops.”

Although the study found that countries replacing forests and diverse, heterogeneous agricultural landscapes with extensive pollinator-dependent monoculture are most vulnerable, other countries also face risks from growing dependence on pollinators.

In Europe, farmland is contracting as development replaces agriculture, but pollinator-dependent crops are replacing non-pollinator-dependent crops such as rice and wheat (which are wind pollinated). According to the study, increasing need for pollination services without parallel increases in diversity puts agricultural stability at risk in places like Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Austria, Denmark, and Finland.

In the United States, agricultural diversity has not kept pace with expansion of industrial-scale soybean farming.

“This work shows that you really need to look at this issue country by country and region by region to see what’s happening because there are different underlying risks,” Inouye said. 

The bottom line is that if you’re increasing pollinator crops, you also need to diversify crops and implement pollinator-friendly management, he added.

Inouye said the researchers are hoping this work will spur policymakers and resource managers to re-evaluate current trends and practices to introduce more pollinator-friendly management such as reducing insecticide use, planting edge rows and flower strips to provide nest sites and food for pollinators, and restoring semi-natural and natural areas adjacent to crops.

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Researchers reveal secrets of sex change in fish Wed, 10 Jul 2019 10:30:49 +0000 Sex change involves complete genetic rewiring of gonad

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A University of Otago-led study is heralding advances in the world’s understanding of one of the most startling transformations in the natural world – the complete reversal of sex that occurs in about 500 species of fish.

Co-lead author Erica Todd, of the Department of Anatomy in New Zealand, says that people take it for granted that our biological sex is fixed at birth. However, many fish, such as the clownfish from Finding Nemo, the kobudai from Blue Planet II, and the Caribbean bluehead wrasse, routinely change their sex in adulthood as a natural part of their lifecycle.

“Most bluehead wrasses begin life as females, but can change sex sometime later to become males – a process that takes just 10 to 21 days from start to finish,” Todd said. 

When a dominant male is lost from a social group, the largest female transforms into a fertile male in 10 days flat. Females begin this transformation within minutes, first changing colour and displaying male-like behaviours. Her ovaries then start to regress and fully functional testes grow in their place.

“How this stunning transformation works at a genetic level has long been an enigma,” she added.

Using the latest genetic approaches, high-throughput RNA-sequencing and epigenetic analyses, researchers discovered when and how specific genes are turned off and on in the brain and gonad so that sex change can occur.

“Our study reveals that sex change involves a complete genetic rewiring of the gonad. We find that genes needed to maintain the ovary are first turned off, and then a new genetic pathway is steadily turned on to promote testis formation,” Todd explained.

This chain reaction begins when a gene called aromatase, which is responsible for making the female hormone oestrogen, is turned off. What triggers aromatase to turn off is unknown, but the stress of social change resulting from the loss of the existing dominant male may be an important signal in turning off the genetic pathway that maintains the ovary.

Co-lead author PhD candidate, Oscar Ortega-Recalde, also from the Department of Anatomy, says that the amazing transformation also appears possible through changes in cellular “memory”.

“In fish and other vertebrates, including humans, cells use chemical markers on DNA that control gene expression and remember their specific function in the body. Our study is important because it shows that sex change involves profound changes in these chemical marks, for example at the aromatase gene, thus reprogramming cell memory in the gonad towards a male fate,” he said.

As many genes important for sexual development in fish are also important in other animals, the team’s discovery has practical applications for humans.

“Understanding how fish can change sex may tell us more about how complex networks of genes interact to determine and maintain sex, not only in fish but in vertebrate animals generally,” Todd noted.

The “remarkable” speed at which a bluehead wrasse’s ovaries can be transformed into a new testes also opens up the possibility of applications in tissue and organ engineering, with potential benefits to medical science.

Furthermore, understanding sex change at a genetic level may also have benefits for aquaculture industries, as about 500 fish species, including many of commercial value such as New Zealand’s iconic blue cod, can also change sex.

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Engineering new bacteria for cancer immunotherapy Wed, 03 Jul 2019 10:30:14 +0000 New bacteria able to grow, multiply in necrotic core of tumours

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The emerging field of synthetic biology—designing new biological components and systems—is revolutionising medicine. Through the genetic programming of living cells, researchers are creating engineered systems that intelligently sense and respond to diverse environments, leading to more specific and effective solutions compared to current molecular-based therapeutics.

Simultaneously, cancer immunotherapy—using the body’s immune defences to fight cancer—has transformed cancer treatment during the past decade, but only a handful of solid tumours have responded, and systemic therapy often results in significant side effects. Designing therapies that can induce a potent, anti-tumour immune response within a solid tumour without triggering systemic toxicity has posed a significant challenge.

Researchers at Columbia Engineering and Columbia University Irving Medical Centre (CUIMC) recently announced that they are addressing this challenge by engineering a strain of non-pathogenic bacteria that can colonise solid tumours in mice and safely deliver potent immunotherapies, acting as a “Trojan Horse” that treats tumours from within. The therapy led not only to complete tumour regression in a mouse model of lymphoma, but also a significant control of distant, un-injected tumour lesions. Their findings are published in Nature Medicine.

“Seeing untreated tumours respond alongside the treatment of primary lesions was an unexpected discovery. It is the first demonstration following a bacterial cancer therapy of what is termed an ‘abscopal’ effect,” Tal Danino, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, said. 

“This means that we’ll be able to engineer bacteria to prime tumours locally, and then stimulate the immune system to seek out tumours and metastases that are too small to be detected with imaging or other approaches,” he added.

The study was led in collaboration with Nicholas Arpaia, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the CUIMC and co-senior author of the publication. 

The team combined their expertise in synthetic biology and immunology to engineer a strain of bacteria able to grow and multiply in the necrotic core of tumours. When bacteria numbers reach a critical threshold, the non-pathogenic Escherichia coli are then programmed to self-destruct, allowing for an effective release of therapeutics and preventing them from wreaking havoc elsewhere in the body. 

Subsequently, a small fraction of bacteria survives lysis and reseeds the population, allowing for repeated rounds of drug delivery inside treated tumours. The proof of the concept in programming the bacteria in this way was originally developed a few years ago (Din & Danino et al Nature 2016). In the current study, the authors chose to release a nano-body that targets a protein called CD47.

CD47, a “don’t-eat-me” signal, protects cancer cells from being eaten by innate immune cells such as macrophages and dendritic cells. It is found in abundance in a majority of human solid tumours and has recently become a popular therapeutic target.

“But CD47 is present elsewhere in the body, and systemic targeting of CD47 results in significant toxicity as evidenced by recent clinical trials. To solve this issue, we engineered bacteria to exclusively target CD47 within the tumour and avoid systemic side-effects of treatment,” adds Sreyan Chowdhury, the paper’s lead author and a PhD student co-mentored by Arpaia and Danino.

The combined effect of bacterially induced local inflammation within the tumour and the blockade of CD47 leads to increased ingestion, or phagocytosis of tumour cells and subsequently to enhanced activation and proliferation of T cells within the treated tumours. The team found that treatment with their engineered bacteria not only cleared the treated tumours but also reduced the incidence of tumour metastasis in multiple models.

“Treatment with engineered bacteria led to the priming of tumour-specific T cells in the tumour that then migrated systemically to also treat distant tumours,” Arpaia noted, adding that, “without both live bugs lysing in the tumour and the CD47 nano-body payload, we were not able to observe the therapeutic or abscopal effects.”

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Novel global system to detect, halt spread of emerging crop diseases Wed, 03 Jul 2019 09:30:18 +0000 System would prioritise six major food crops: maize, potato, cassava, rice, beans, wheat

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Pests annually causes a loss of more than 20% of the five major crops that provide half of the world’s population of caloric intake, according to a study by researchers at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

Climate change and global trade are key factors in the emergence and spread of crop diseases, which are often ineffective, especially in low-income countries, revealed a study published recently in the journal Science. 

In this study, the researchers are providing a global monitoring system to improve global food security and increase agricultural production by up to 70% by 2050, through reducing the proportion of lost crops due to pests, noting that only 2-6% of the goods are well screened.

The researchers expect the proposed monitoring system to pay off in 2020, in conjunction with the United Nations’ year as the International Year of Plant Health, stressing that “this system gives priority to the five main crops: maize, potatoes, rice, wheat, cassava, and beans, in addition to food and commercial crops.”

“In the policy forum, we conclude that there is a need to strengthen plant surveillance systems and we proposed and summarised a strategy for the world to be better prepared for the introduction and spread of crop pathogens that threaten food security and trade globally,” said Mónica Carvajal, a CIAT researcher and the lead author of the study. 

Regarding the methods that the researchers used to reach to the results of the study, Carvajal added, “I applied to the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) to convene a meeting in the RF Bellagio Center in Italy in 2018 in order to develop a strategic plan for a global surveillance system (GSS) to protect crops against diseases.”

According to the researcher, the RF supported the initiative and 19 experts in genetics, virology, pathology, entomology, biotechnology, epidemiology, climate change, metadata analysis, geospatial analytics, and global development policy gathered to analyse, synthesise, and share knowledge about emerging infectious diseases of plants that threaten global food security. 

The week-long meeting and one year of continuum discussions between participants allowed them to propose a strategic plan taking lessons learned from well-established networks and organisations, such as the United States National Plant Diagnostic Network, and the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization.


Carvajal argued that the results of her study are very important, explaining that the plan proposed in the policy is highly important because it presents the multidisciplinary strategy of important networks that closely work together to enhance the regional and local capacity in diagnostics, data sharing, communication, and risk assessment components. 

According to the lead author of the paper, these are the components that need to be strengthened in the most low-income countries and in the world, which is subjected to a changing climate and increasing trade. The diagnostic network, for example, is one of the already identified components by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) development agenda for 2020-2030 and the GSS is just in time for the discussion in the context of next year, as being proclaimed as the International Year of Plant Health.

“I am a biologist with a PhD in virology from the University of Freiburg, Germany. I’ve been working with human, animal, and plant viruses for more than 10 years. Specifically, to prepare the GSS plan, the idea started in 2016 while being part of the CIAT team that confirmed the cassava mosaic disease (CMD) outbreak in Cambodia, and by working to improve diagnostic methods to detect viral diseases in rice, beans, papaya, cassava, and other crops,” Carvajal shared. 

In 2017, she started working for the proposal to the RF. The meeting with the 19 experts was in February 2018 and since then she and the team had regular meetings sharpening the discussion presented in the document, she added.

Moreover, Carvajal believed that one significant aspect to satisfy the global demand for food is to reduce the number of crops lost by crop diseases. Early detection, efficient communication, and data sharing together with risk assessment predictions will facilitate a faster, more informed, and efficient response.


Carvajal also stressed the need to bring more institutions and organisations to the discussion, such as the IPPC, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the G20 agriculture ministers’ meetings among others, to join efforts toward enhancing cooperation for a multiyear action plan.

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11th WCSJ2019 kicks off in Lausanne addressing state of science journalism Tue, 02 Jul 2019 20:42:08 +0000 The conference is held every 2 years in a different country in each round

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Lausanne – The 11th World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ2019) kicked off on Monday in the city of Lausanne, Switzerland. 

About 1,200 researchers, business leaders, policymakers, science communicators, and journalists from more all over the world attended the opening of the five-day forum which is hosted by the L’Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) at its SwissTech Convention Centre. 

Olivier Dessibourg, head of the organising team and president of the Swiss Association of Science Journalists, said that the conference was set up by the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) aiming to gather science journalists to discuss the state of their profession, share best practices, and outline new goals to aspire to. 

The WCSJ 2019 has five main tracks. The first theme is about science and the latest developments in a range of fields. The second theme is about the way science is done, its relation to society, and the role of science journalists. 

The themes also include discussions on the new ways to make a living from science journalism, women science journalists unite, and challenges and opportunities for freelancers. It will also address skills and tools for science journalism, as well as talking about the lighter side of science and journalism. 

The WCSJ2019 is held every two years in a different country in each round and aims to enable science journalists from different continents to meet and start working together more efficiently. 

During his speech at the opening ceremony of the conference, President of the WFSJ, Mohammed Yahia, said that the federation has 61 member associations in 50 countries, representing more than 10,000 science journalists.

Calling for reaching out more countries that are still not in the federation, Yahia added that, “there are close to 200 countries at the UN. 150 more to go!”

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SpaceX launches reusable Falcon Heavy rocket deploying 24 satellites Wed, 26 Jun 2019 08:22:39 +0000 SpaceX achieved a great success by launching SPT2— the recycled rocket— into orbit early Tuesday morning

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SpaceX achieved a great success by launching STP-2 mission, to deploy dizens of satellite using Falcon Heavy — the reusable rocket— into orbit early Tuesday morning.
After a three hour delay, SpaceX launched the STP-2 (space test programme 2), the heavy mega rocket at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida at 2 am in the morning.
Before the launch, SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk, called this mission as the “most difficult launch ever.” The Falcon Heavy carrying 24 satellites, which needed to be placed in three different orbits, requires multiple upper-stage engine firings and is going to take several hours to release them all, according to The Washington Post.
The STP-2 launch is the military’s first ride on a reusable rocket to prove the company’s capability to carry out national security missions in the future.
Both side boosters successfully landed back at Cape Canaveral air force station several minutes after lift-off, as they did in the test launched in April.
During the mission, SpaceX successfully caught half of the fairing, or nose cone, of its Falcon Heavy rocket, which is considered as a new milestone as the company seeks to consistently reuse an expensive part of its rocket.
The first test flight for the Falcon Heavy was in February 2018. The new rocket will help reduce the huge cost of launching rockets by providing data to certify the Falcon Heavy and reused boosters for future national security launches.

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Egypt’s Eastern Desert holds significant amounts of groundwater: study Wed, 12 Jun 2019 13:22:32 +0000 Researchers use chlorine isotopes to determine age, origin of groundwater

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Researchers at the University of Delaware used chlorine isotopes as chemical tracers to determine the age and origin of groundwater in the Eastern Desert of Egypt.


The paper, recently published in the Earth and Planetary Science Letters journal, said that in order to measure the age and origin of the groundwater. Twenty-nine samples were collected from different wells during several field expeditions in Egypt.


The researchers used the long-lived radioactive isotope chlorine-36 to estimate the age of the groundwater. This isotope forms in the atmosphere and travels to earth and has a half-life of 300,000 years.


Mahmoud Sherif, doctoral candidate at the University of Delaware and the main author of the paper, told Daily News Egypt that the study focused on using chlorine isotopes to identify sources of chloride, and to estimate the relative age of groundwater from the Nubian aquifer and the shallow alluvial aquifers, in addition to the fractured basement aquifers in the Eastern Desert of Egypt.


Groundwater from the deep wells tapping the Nubian aquifer reported the oldest ages (more than 600,000 years), whereas groundwater from the fractured basement rocks were the youngest.


The shallow alluvial aquifers surprisingly reported old parent ages which reached 200,000 years. Age dating results indicate that old water from the deeper Nubian aquifer is discharged into the shallow alluvial aquifer through deep-seated faults in the Eastern Desert that belong to the Najd fault system associated with the Red Sea rift system.


Responding to our inquiry about the importance of the study, Sherif noted that the Eastern Desert of Egypt is a severely arid region, and thereby the presence of that promising water resource is very crucial to meet stresses in water demands, and to accommodate developmental plans in that region of the country.


“I started working on this project since 2017. The project was partially funded through a fellowship provided by the Egyptian government. The work has been done through several field trips to collect groundwater samples from these aquifers,” said Sherif. He added that geochemical analysis of water samples and interpretation of the results has been completed in the United States.


Regarding the methods that the researchers used in the study, the researcher told DNE that they have analysed the chlorine-36 isotope in groundwater as a good tracer to date groundwaters.


“Chlorine-36 isotope has a long half-life (300,000 years) in addition to a conservative behaviour in the aquifer (non-reactive) that allows us to date very old groundwater,” he said, adding that “Chlorine-36 is a cosmogenic isotope produced in the atmosphere by spallation of argon-36 during interaction with cosmic ray protons. It enters groundwater systems through precipitation and undergoes radioactive decay over time.”


According to the researcher, groundwater from the shallow alluvial aquifers were expected to have young ages since it is mainly recharged by flash floods after heavy rains. “However, our findings revealed that these groundwaters are relatively old (up to 200,000 years). This indicates that older water from the Nubian aquifer comes up along faults in the rocks and mixes in with the shallow water,” Sherif said, noting that they also have used the stable isotope ratios of oxygen and hydrogen to quantitatively estimate old and young water mixing fractions.


The study reveals natural discharge of groundwater from the deeper Nubian aquifer into the shallower alluvial aquifer. The deeper Nubian aquifer is considered the biggest groundwater body in the world. It extended beneath four countries in north-eastern Africa, including Egypt, Libya, Chad, and Sudan, covering around 2m sqkm.


It also extends beneath around 80% of the total area of Egypt including the eastern desert. Models have indicated that the amount of groundwater contained in the Nubian aquifer in Egypt alone is tremendously considerable (enough to keep the Nile flowing for 500 years), according to Sherif.


He further explained that the presence of such discharge makes the shallower alluvial aquifer a significant and promising water resource which meets developmental plans in these areas. “However, more studies are still needed to accurately quantify the amount of water contained in that aquifer,” he noted.


The researcher stressed that the findings of the study are very important and a significant step toward accommodating water stress in these arid zones of the country. “We are currently applying sophisticated isotopic measurements to identify potential recharge sources for the Nubian aquifer in the eastern desert and the western desert as well. This will also be of great importance toward developmental plans in these regions,” he said.


Meanwhile, Ali Akanda, assistant professor at the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Rhode Island, said that Egypt’s water resources are facing a dilemma of diminishing supplies and increasing demand.


“As impacts of climate change are becoming more prominent (changing precipitation in the highlands, increasing evaporation from Lake Nasser, etc) and upstream nations are asserting their rights for a larger share of the Nile flow–providing water for its growing population and agricultural demand will be a long-term challenge and uncertain at best. To make matters easier, one could see how Egypt becomes more reliant on its groundwater resources in the years to come,” he noted.


In his opinion, taking lessons from its neighbours’ experiences (such as Saudi Arabia, Libya, Yemen), Egypt should consider its groundwater sources as a strategic reserve and carefully develop a plan to tap this resource.


This should include accurately determining the recharge zones and rates and restrict exploitation in areas that allow a sustainable management of these precious resources. That would require academic research as well as government intervention to identify new areas to develop, (for agricultural expansion, urban development, tourism, etc) and the protection of natural recharge zones such as wetlands and outcrops.


Akanda added that the rapid expansion of Cairo and the Nile Delta region will create a lot of new water demand in the decades to come. Innovative solutions involving the region’s food-energy-water connections will be critical to meet this demand and ensure Egypt’s long-term water security.

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Scientists determine age, origin of groundwater from Egypt’s Eastern Desert Wed, 29 May 2019 13:00:24 +0000 Deep Nubian aquifer water discharged into overlying alluvial deposits

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Researchers at the University of Delaware used chlorine isotopes as chemical tracers to determine the age and origin of groundwater from the Eastern Desert of Egypt.

The paper recently published in the Earth and Planetary Science Letters journal said that in order to measure the age and origin of the groundwater, 29 samples were collected from different wells during several field expeditions in Egypt.

The researchers used the long-lived radioactive isotope chlorine-36 to estimate the age of the groundwater. This isotope forms in the atmosphere and travels to the earth and has a half-life of 300,000 years.

The researchers analysed chlorine abundances and stable chlorine isotope ratios to decipher sources of chloride and to estimate subsurface residence times of groundwater from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System (NSAS), alluvial aquifers, and fractured basement aquifers in the Eastern Desert of Egypt.

Chemical and isotopic data indicate that dry fallout of marine aerosols and evaporated vadose-zone residues from precipitation which recharged the aquifers may have been the main sources of groundwater solutes.

Groundwater from the fractured basement aquifers in the southwestern part of the study area had the youngest apparent ages, while groundwater from deep wells tapping the Nubian aquifer had the oldest apparent ages.

Shallow alluvial aquifers having anomalously old apparent 36Cl model ages, indicate mixing of old Nubian aquifer water with modern recharge in alluvial aquifers. Stable isotope ratios of hydrogen and oxygen support this inferred mixing relationship and allowed quantitative estimation of old and young water mixing fractions.

Neil C Sturchio, professor and chair of the Department of Geological Sciences in UD’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment, said that the Eastern Desert is interesting because while it is still dry and arid, it gets more rain than the Western Desert of Egypt.

“In the shallow aquifers you would expect young water, perhaps 50-100 years old, because it’s coming down as rain and flowing out toward the Nile Valley,” said Sturchio. He added in the press release of the paper that in some of these aquifers, the researchers found water that’s apparently 200,000 years old.

Sturchio said that while the water is probably not actually 200,000 years old, the fact that it appears that way shows that older water from the Nubian aquifer comes up along faults in the rocks and mixes in with the shallow water, carrying some of the older chlorine with it.

According to Sturchio, while Egypt is lucky that it has a lot of water from the Nile, there is only so much water that can be taken out of the river according to an international agreement. That is why it is critical in areas like the Eastern Desert to identify and use these groundwater resources.

“The young groundwater that comes down as rain and takes about 50 to 100 years to flow to the Nile is being used for irrigation in some places. But some of the water they’re pumping out comes from the much older groundwater in the aquifer underneath,” said Sturchio.

He added: “You really want to know how much of that water you can pump out before you’re over-pumping it and using it up too fast. Ideally, you don’t want to pump it out faster than it can replenish itself. Knowing the groundwater age is part of the basis for developing a good strategy for using it.”

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Africa’s elephant poaching rates decline Wed, 29 May 2019 12:00:46 +0000 Despite decline, scientists warn that elephants are still under threat

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An international team of scientists have concluded that elephant poaching rates in Africa have started to decline after reaching a peak in 2011.

The researchers said in their paper, which was recently published in the Nature Communications journal, that the continent’s elephant population remains threatened without continuing action to tackle poverty, reduce corruption, and decrease ivory demand.

The research, which included scientists from the universities of Freiburg, York, and the Convention for the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), reveals a decline in annual poaching mortality rate from an estimated peak of over 10 % in 2011 to less than 4 % in 2017.

It is estimated that there are around 350,000 elephants left in Africa, but approximately 10-15,000 are killed each year by poachers. At current poaching rates, elephants are in danger of being virtually wiped out from the continent, surviving only in small, heavily protected pockets.

One of the authors of the study, Colin Beale, from the University of York’s Department of Biology said: “We are seeing a downturn in poaching, which is obviously positive news, but it is still above what we think is sustainable so elephant populations are declining.”

“The poaching rates seem to respond primarily to ivory prices in south-east Asia and we can’t hope to succeed without tackling demand in that region,” Beale continued.

The research team says it is impossible to say if the ivory trade ban introduced in China in 2017 is having an impact on the figures as ivory prices started to fall before the ban and may reflect a wider downturn in the Chinese economy.

“We need to reduce demand in Asia and improve the livelihoods of people who are living with elephants in Africa; these are the two biggest targets to ensure the long-term survival of elephants,” Beale said, adding, “While we can’t forget about anti-poaching and law enforcement, improving this alone will not solve the poaching problem.”

Speaking to Daily News Egypt via email, Beale said “Firstly, knowing that elephant poaching rates are declining is a good news story, and knowing that this matches declines in (mammoth) ivory prices in south-eastern Asia tells us reducing demand is an important part of the story.”

Furthermore, he added: “Secondly, our results suggest that reductions in supply from the African end would now be more likely to happen if we tackle poverty and corruption, rather than continuing to improve law-enforcement in the field. That’s not to say that we can stop law-enforcement, but that further reductions in poaching rates are more likely to come from reducing poverty and corruption than continued focus on law-enforcement alone.”

The researchers used data supplied by rangers in the field at 53 sites across the continent (containing around 50% of the remaining elephants in Africa) which describe the number of illegally killed elephants at each site, the number of elephant carcasses encountered which were not illegally killed–therefore, it is therefore a sort of cause of death analysis. After that, they combined all this data using sophisticated statistical analyses to identify the factors which correlate with spatial and temporal variation in poaching rates.

The scientists looked at data from the Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme, which records carcass data provided by park rangers at 53 protected sites across Africa.

Head of Wildlife Communication and Ambassador Relations, UN Environment, Lisa Rolls Hagelberg said: “Ensuring a future with wild elephants, and a myriad of other species, will require stronger laws, enforcement efforts, and genuine community engagement. However, as long as demand exists, supply will find a way to quench it. Only about 6% of the current funding going toward tackling illegal trade in wildlife is directed to communication.”

She added in the press release of York University that “For long-term success, governments need to prioritise comprehensive social and behavioural change interventions to both prevent and reduce demand. We have the know-how, now we need to invest to truly influence environmental consciousness.”

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Lack of proper waste management in Egypt causes accumulation of marine plastic litter Wed, 22 May 2019 12:30:11 +0000 No attempts have been exerted toward identifying or assessing marine plastic litter in Egypt

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When we speak about plastic waste the first image to mind may be images of beach rubbish and large plastic pieces floating on the surface of the sea, but many recent concerns about plastic pollution have focused on micro-plastic particles which cannot be easily detected by the naked eye.

The term pollution of micro-plastic waste was first coined in 2004 in a study published in the Science journal. The term has since been used to describe pollution from plastic parts in the marine environment, which is usually smaller than 5 millimetres (mm).

The Mediterranean Sea, where Egypt is one of the countries with a 1,050 km coast on it, is one of the most marine environments affected by pollution caused by micro-plastic wastes. The Mediterranean is almost a lake. It has only one narrow outlet in its west, the Strait of Gibraltar, which links it to the Atlantic Ocean.

Five main countries get rid of their plastic waste in the Mediterranean: Turkey with144 tonnes per day, Spain (126), Italy (90), Egypt (77), and France (66), according to a report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in June 2018.

Management dilemma


A new study recently published in Marine Pollution Bulletin warns of the increase of micro-plastic pollutants in the Mediterranean, especially in front of Egyptian coasts, which threatens the marine environment in the region.

The study, prepared by Soha Shabaka, assistant professor of hydrobiology at the National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries, Rasha Marey, the researcher of hydrobiology at the institute, and Mohamed Ghobashi, assistant professor of polymer chemistry at the Nuclear Materials Authority, is the first assessment of micro-plastic waste in Egypt’s marine environment, applying it to the eastern port area of ​​Alexandria on the Mediterranean coast.

The study points out that the lack of good management of solid waste in Egypt led to the accumulation of plastic waste and its accumulation in the waterways. However, no attempts were made to identify or evaluate plastic waste in Egypt.

“Ten types of plastic polymers have been extracted in sizes ranging from less than 5 mm to 20 microns (a micrometre [μm] equal to one millionth of a metre) of the water column and marine sediments in the eastern port of Alexandria,” said Soha Shabaka, assistant professor at the National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries, and first author of the study.

The researcher told Daily News Egypt, that the quantities which were detected from plastic pollution can pose a threat to the marine environment and fish that deal with these wastes, and then interfere with the biological processes of the organism. “The source of polymers are sacks, plastic bottles, and decomposing food packaging materials” Shabaka stated.

Mohamed Ghobashi, assistant professor of polymer chemistry at the Nuclear Materials Authority and co-author of the study, told DNE that plastic waste which was observed from the surface of the water is a type of plastic with buoyant characteristics such as polyethylene and polypropylene, so it is used in the making of fishing nets after it was previously manufactured from nylon.

Ghobashi added that the micro-plastic particles of polyethylene terephthalate, polychlorobiphenyl, and polystyrene, which sink into the deep water and are eaten by fish and other marine animals, end up in our daily dishes.

Field work began in December 2017. The researchers collected samples from eight stations covering the eastern port and sediment samples from the Anfushi beach. In the study, the researchers used the differential scanning calorimetry device whose work is based on monitoring thermal properties of polymers, causes of chemical interactions, or physical changes.

This technique is easy to operate, economical, efficient in extracting and identifying microplastics from marine samples, as well as identifying plastic particles and their percentage in marine samples.

According to the study, “random” disposal of plastic waste represents the biggest challenge facing waste management systems. Plastic has the ability to infiltrate coastal ecosystems and contaminate the food chain. Plastic waste poses significant threats because of its resistance to light, thermal, and biological processes. Once disposed of on the ground, plastic waste makes its way into water bodies.

The technique which the study introduces is not the only way to detect plastic waste. A team of scientists at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom has found a new way to detect micro-plastic waste in the seas and oceans, using a Dye Nile Red to detect micro-plastic waste ranging from 1 mm to 20 μm, according to the results of the study published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal at the end of 2017.

Plastic as food

Micro-plastic waste poses a serious threat to the marine environment, as it is one of the most abundant elements in the seas and oceans today, because large plastics eventually decompose into millions of fine plastic pieces that make them accessible to a wide range of organisms.

A study published in September 2018 in the Biology Letters journal found that mosquito larvae eat fine plastic particles which can remain trapped in their bodies, meaning that mosquitos and other similar insects can spread plastic particles to wild predators such as birds or spiders, subsequently plastic waste is transferred to a completely new element in the food chain.

Speaking to DNE, Rana Al-Jaibachi, a researcher at the School of Biological Sciences, the University of Reading, the UK, said that she found the paper to be a very interesting piece of work, particularly the fact that the study’s researchers were able to identify and quantify the most abundant polymers in the marine environment, and cover new areas which have never been previously examined.

“Also the novel method which was used in this study could be adopted in the future to examine more samples especially as it is time and cost effective, although most research is still limited to identifying and quantifying microplastics less than 20 μm in size, which could be more available in the environment and could be more harmful to aquatic organisms. In our recent study we found small microplastics size 2 μm can transfer through the life stages of mosquitoes more than the bigger size of 15 μm,” she said.  

Al-Jaibachi noted that the transfer and accumulation of microplastics through the food chain is an increasing concern of how this waste may affect human health. This represents a major emerging issue since human populations have a high dependency on aquatic organisms, according to the researcher.

She added that “the near future is likely to see new policies and management tools being developed to attempt to combat the issue, and it is important that these are informed by a good quality research.”

In Egypt, more than 80% of municipal solid waste is discharged into water bodies. This improper management has led to significant negative environmental impacts and severe health problems. According to the study, the amount of marine plastic waste in Egypt ranges from 0.15 to 0.39m tonnes per year. Egypt ranked seventh among 192 countries in terms of volume of marine plastic waste.

Countering micro plastics

Kakani Katija- a researcher at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, the United States-told DNE that “this work provides a necessary baseline for marine plastic pollution in Egypt. To my knowledge, this is the first study of its kind in this region, and can provide information to motivate solid waste management measures in Egypt.”

She added that the work conducted in the study was at a single location in the eastern harbour of Alexandria. Further efforts to characterise the extent of plastic pollution in other locations in Egypt can help us understand how widespread the issue is there.

“Microplastic pollution is characterised by plastic fragments and particles less than a couple of mms in size. Due to their size, they are easy for many marine animals to ingest, thereby enabling plastics to enter marine food webs more easily. Results have shown that some marine animals prefer eating plastic to regular food, and with more studies linking toxicity to plastics, their presence in marine food webs (and in the fish we eat) can be harmful to us,” Katija clarified.

Ghobashi, co-author of the study, explained that plastic contamination was found to be widespread on a large geographical scale because of marine currents. In order to limit plastic waste, the researcher proposes to recycle this waste, in addition to advising and forcing fishermen to use nets made of cotton, linen, and silk, and to prevent the use of detergents for microplastics.

The first author in the study, Shabaka noted that the study is the first of its kind that is done on the marine environment of Egypt. Shabaka believes that the solution to the pollution of plastic waste is the recycling of solid waste, especially plastic, and finding an effective way to manage solid waste in Egypt.

The researcher believes that there should be awareness campaigns not to throw waste into the sea, whether from beach users or fishing boats, and to carry out comprehensive cleaning campaigns, whether to clean the beaches or to collect the large solid waste in the sea water by nets, as suggested in the recommendations of the United Nations Environment Programme.

But she also noted that “there is no radical solution for the disposal of the present minute plastic waste in the sea, but reducing its build-up and rising from the source is the best procedure.”

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MENA’s first Vertebrate Palaeontology centre inaugurated in Mansoura University Sat, 18 May 2019 18:22:18 +0000 Springer Nature, Egyptian Knowledge Bank sponsored inauguration

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Scientific American Arabic Edition (For Science) and the Egyptian Knowledge Bank announced on Friday night, the official inauguration of the Mansoura University Vertebrate Palaeontology (MUVP) to be the first of its kind in North Africa and the Middle East (MENA).

Ministers of Education, Tarek Shawky, and Environment Minister, Yasmine Fouad, and Ashraf Abdel Basset, the president of Mansoura University, as well as representatives from the UNESCO in Egypt presented in the celebration which was hosted by Springer Nature.  

The event aimed to shed light on one of the most important academic and scientific successes of Egyptian scientists over the past 10 years. These successes resulted in great scientific discoveries of creatures that have existed in Egypt millions of years ago, including the dinosaur Mansourasaurus, one of the most important scientific discoveries announced in 2018.

Founder and Director of the centre, Hesham Sallam, said during the celebration that he was dreaming about establishing such a centre for research in vertebrate palaeontology, and training Egyptian researchers in this field, for about 11 years.

“Finally, we succeeded in forming a scientific school and publishing studies and discoveries of Egyptian researchers in major international journals including Nature journals,” he said.

Sallam added the centre’s researchers cooperate with international and regional universities in exchanging experience. He hopes that he and his team’s efforts could lead to the establishment of a museum of Egypt’s natural history.  

Shawky, the president of the Egyptian Knowledge Bank, noted that the celebration contributes to supporting scientific research and the settlement of scientific knowledge, as well as highlighting the efforts of Egyptian researchers.

Furthermore, Shawky expressed happiness at the joint coverage of the Egyptian Knowledge Bank and For Science, for the achievements of Egyptian researchers.

“The magazine is an important tool for promoting science and supporting scientific culture in Egypt and the Middle East region,” he said.

For her part, Fouad, welcomed the opening of the centre and stressed the cooperation and support of her ministry in advance and continuous cooperation with the centre to facilitate their tasks and exploratory trips in prospecting for excavations in nature reserves.

Chief editor of For Science magazine, Dalia Abdelsalam said that the purpose of the event is to shed light on the importance of vertebrate fossils in general, especially in light of the presence of Egyptian scientists who are making distinctive discoveries in this field, including the Egyptian dinosaur Mansourasaurus.

She added that For Science is interested in covering great scientific discoveries and simplifying science for the non-specialist reader in an attempt to innovate a third language that combines science and journalism.

Abdelsalam also stressed that Springer Nature’s sponsorship of the event represents one of the company’s objectives of transferring real scientific knowledge to the Egyptian and Arab public.

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Tectonic activity causes moons’ shallow quakes Wed, 15 May 2019 09:00:56 +0000 LRO has imaged more than 3,500 fault scarps on moon

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Some shallow moonquakes recorded during the Apollo programme were likely caused by tectonic activity, according to a paper published recently in Nature Geoscience.

The discovery of young faults less than 50m years old on the moon by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) in 2010 has been interpreted as evidence of lunar tectonic activity. However, it is unclear how recent this activity is.

In this study, scientists had analysed imagery taken by the LRO, and found that the moon shrivelled like a raisin as its interior cooled, leaving behind thousands of cliffs called thrust faults on the moon’s surface.

Findings of the paper suggest that the moon may still be shrinking today and actively producing moonquakes along these thrust faults.

The researchers designed a new algorithm to re-analyse seismic data from instruments placed by NASA’s Apollo missions in the 1960s and ’70s. Their analysis provided a more accurate epicentre location data for 28 moonquakes recorded from 1969 to 1977.

Subsequently, the team superimposed this location data onto the LRO imagery of the thrust faults. Based on the quakes’ proximity to the thrust faults, the researchers found that at least eight of the quakes likely resulted from true tectonic activity–the movement of crustal plates–along the thrust faults, rather than from asteroid impacts or rumblings deep within the moon’s interior.

Although the Apollo instruments recorded their last quake shortly before the instruments were retired in 1977, the researchers suggest that the moon is likely still experiencing quakes to this day.

During the Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, and 16 missions, astronauts placed five seismometers on the moon’s surface. The Apollo 11 seismometer operated only for three weeks, but the four remaining instruments recorded 28 shallow moonquakes–the type produced by tectonic faults–from 1969 to 1977. On Earth, the quakes would have ranged in magnitude from about 2 to 5 degrees.

Using the revised location estimates from their new algorithm, the researchers found that the epicentres of eight of the 28 shallow quakes were within 19 miles of faults visible in the LRO images. This was close enough for the team to conclude that the faults likely caused the quakes. The researchers produced “shake maps” derived from models which predict where the strongest shakes should occur, given the size of the thrust faults.

The researchers also found that six of the eight quakes happened when the moon was at or near its apogee, the point in the moon’s orbit when it is farthest from Earth. This is where additional tidal stress from Earth’s gravity causes a peak in the total stress on the moon’s crust, making slippage along the thrust faults more likely.

Much as a grape wrinkles as it dries to become a raisin, the moon also wrinkles as its interior cools and shrinks. Unlike the flexible skin on a grape, however, the moon’s crust is brittle, causing it to break as the interior shrinks. This breakage results in thrust faults, where one section of crust is pushed up over an adjacent section. These faults resemble small stair-shaped cliffs, or scarps, when seen from the lunar surface; each is roughly tens of yards high and a few miles long.

The LRO has imaged more than 3,500 fault scarps on the moon since it began operation in 2009. Some of these images show landslides or boulders at the bottom of relatively bright patches on the slopes of fault scarps or nearby terrain. Because weathering gradually darkens material on the lunar surface, brighter areas indicate regions that are freshly exposed by an event such as a moonquake.

Other LRO fault images show fresh tracks from boulder falls, suggesting that quakes sent these boulders rolling down their cliff slopes. Such tracks would be erased relatively quickly, in terms of geologic time, by the constant rain of micrometeoroid impacts on the moon. With nearly a decade of the LRO imagery already available and more on the way in the coming years, the team would like to compare pictures of specific fault regions from different times to look for fresh evidence of recent moonquakes.

“We established links between some of the shallow moonquakes detected by the Apollo seismometers between 1969 and 1977 to young fault scarps that have been identified in the LROC high resolution images,” said Thomas Watters from the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, and co-author of the study.

He added to Daily News Egypt that this connection indicates that the Apollo seismometers detected slip events on the young faults and that means these are currently active faults on the moon.

According to Watters, the analysis of the Apollo seismic data and determining if the young fault scarps were the sources of some of the shallow moonquakes took the authors a couple of years.  The detection of what we now know to be several thousand young fault scarps has been ongoing since the start of the LRO mission in June of 2009. 

Because the Apollo seismic network of four seismometers, all located on the lunar nearside, was not ideal the location of the shallow moonquakes, their epicentres were very known with enough accuracy to make comparisons with the locations the young fault scarps.

“We applied a relatively new algorithm designed for sparse seismic networks like the Apollo seismic network to improve the accuracy of their locations,” he said.   

He further explained “now that we have established likely sources for the shallow moonquakes, we need to be mindful of the locations of the thousands of young fault scarps when considering plans for future exploration and establishing a long-term human presence on the moon.”

The team plans to look for evidence of change on and around these young fault scarps from seismic activity that has occurred during the period the LRO has been in orbit using temporal images pairs.  

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Only one third of world’s longest rivers remain free-flowing Wed, 15 May 2019 08:30:57 +0000 Human activity disrupts river connectivity, which threatens ecosystems, services

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Rivers play a prominent role in supporting human communities through the provision of drinking water, and agricultural activities. But recent years have seen a decline in the ability of major rivers around the world to flow freely, because of human interventions, the establishment of dams, and the obstruction of the streams of these rivers.

According to a recent study published in the Nature journal, 91 rivers of the longest rivers in the world, with a length of more than 1,000km and they number 242 rivers only, are still flowing freely, an estimated 37.6%, while 63% of these 91 rivers are obstructed by water flow due to dams and reservoirs created by man.

Fluvial conductivity in the waterway helps to facilitate communication between components of the river system, whether water or organic matter, marine species, energy, and light.

The study, prepared by an international team of 34 researchers led by Canada’s McGill University and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), provides the first assessment of fluvial conductivity by monitoring the state of 12m km of river flow around the world.

Free-flowing rivers are very valuable ecosystems and contribute a lot to nature and humans. Dam construction is the major reason why river connectivity has been declining worldwide, with often negative consequences on river health and on the capacity of rivers to provide eco-services, such as food, clean water, and nutrients, according to Günther Grill, professor of geography at McGill University, and first author of the study.

Biodiversity is also rapidly declining in rivers. We need to better protect these rivers and find smart and sustainable solutions for future infrastructure development to minimise the impact on rivers.

The study showed that 12 of the 91 rivers that continue to flow freely and retain the direct link between upstream and downstream on the sea coast eventually end up in the ocean. The remaining 79 free rivers are confined to remote areas of the Arctic, the Amazon basin, and the Congo basin.

“Our methods are very sensitive to any kind of infrastructure development. One road near a river would show up as a signal in our data. But there is a grey zone between a river that is free-flowing and one that is not. Even though these rivers have been touched by human infrastructure development, most of these were touched only lightly. Diminished connectivity may not be a major problem for them,” Grill told Daily News Egypt.

He added that the data published in this paper is the culmination of more than a decade of data processing and preparation. The researchers first needed to create digital maps of millions of rivers, as these were not available on a global scale. They also needed millions of lakes, and tens of thousands of reservoirs, as well as information about water use, roads, and urban areas for each of the millions of rivers.

Then the second phase of the work started, which was about four years ago: bringing this information together which involved processing the data in geographic information systems (GIS).

“A major challenge was to verify this information and eliminate errors that inevitably occur in these types of global datasets. This work included a lot of manual labour, done by us, or colleagues and students,” according to the researcher.

“For example, the location of each of more than 25,000 dams has been verified manually against satellite imagery by our colleagues in several years of work, and by using crowdsourcing techniques,” he explained.

But once the team had the data in one database, another challenge was to process this enormous amount of data using their connectivity methodology. This task required lots of computer memory and processors, so the researchers needed to constantly improve the efficiency of the model code as well as automating the steps as much as possible.

Finally, they used statistical models to calculate an index on connectivity for each river worldwide.

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Oxygen possibly linked to Cambrian explosion 540m years ago Wed, 08 May 2019 12:12:40 +0000 Cambrian explosion was crucial period of rapid evolution in complex animals

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A major outstanding question in the natural sciences is what caused the ‘Cambrian explosion,’ or the rapid diversification of animal life around 520m years ago where many modern types of organisms evolved.

Using state-of-the-art analysis of carbon and sulphur isotopes in Cambrian-age marine sedimentary rocks, University College London (UCL) and the University of Leeds have shown that large fluctuations in early Cambrian biodiversity of animals coincided with pulses of oxygen to the atmosphere and shallow-ocean.

Findings of the study support the theory that the oxygen content of the atmosphere is a major control on animal evolution, and shows that the Cambrian explosion was a time when pioneering animals evolved rapidly into modern animal phyla through a period of extreme, oxygen-driven ‘boom and bust’ with multiple radiations and extinctions.

This is a fossilized trilobite Aldonaia from the Cambrian Period

The major result of the paper which was published recently in the Nature Geoscience journal, reveal extreme fluctuations in atmospheric oxygen levels corresponding with evolutionary surges and extinctions in animal biodiversity during the Cambrian explosion.

The Cambrian explosion was a crucial period of rapid evolution in complex animals which began roughly 540m years ago. The trigger for this fundamental phase in the early history of animal life is a subject of ongoing biological debate.

The team analysed the carbon and sulphur isotopes from marine carbonate samples collected from sections along the Aldan and Lena rivers in Siberia. During the time of the Cambrian explosion this area would have been a shallow sea and the home for the majority of animal life on Earth.

The lower Cambrian strata in Siberia are composed of continuous limestone with rich fossil records and reliable age constraints, providing suitable samples for the geochemical analyses. The isotope signatures in the rocks relate to the global production of oxygen, allowing the team to determine oxygen levels present in the shallow ocean and atmosphere during the Cambrian period.

“Regarding the analytical part, I started this research project during my PhD study in the UCL since September 2013 and extended this work into my first post-doc job in University of Leeds since November 2017,” said Tianchen He, study lead author and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Leeds.

He added that the Cambrian-age (around 520m years ago) marine carbonate rock samples used in this study were collected by Chinese and Russian scientists during a joint expedition in 2008 to the Lena river region of eastern Siberia.

The researchers have applied geochemical methods to extract ancient seawater inorganic carbon and sulphate, and analysed their carbon and sulphur isotopes. “By combining the variation of these isotopic compositions in ancient rocks through time and biogeochemical modelling results, we are able to trace oxygen variations in the Earth’s atmosphere and shallow oceans during the Cambrian explosion. Then, when compared it to fossilised animals from the same time and we can clearly see that evolutionary radiations follow a pattern of ‘boom and bust’ in tandem with the oxygen levels,” he told Daily News Egypt.

Explaining why was oxygen content in the atmosphere a major controlling factor in animal evolution, he elaborated that, “It is known that more complex and advanced animals that are motile or produce biominerals demand higher oxygen concentrations for the intense metabolism. Besides, their evolution throughout the Ediacaran and Cambrian periods shows broad correlations with rising oxygen concentrations”.

Some previously published evidence has suggested that atmospheric oxygen reached a level of 40% of present atmospheric levels (PAL), and at least part of the ocean was well-oxygenated to modern levels. However, there was no data which could constrain the overall net atmospheric oxygen production rate through the entire early Cambrian period.

In the current study, for the first time we can confidently show that the episodic animal radiations during the “Cambrian explosion” was accompanied by multiple and extreme fluctuations in oxygen.

This is not everything, but He and his team are still working on the topic. “Yes, we have not fully understood what was driving the repeated 1-2m year cycles of oxygen perturbation during the early Cambrian period. Our findings regarding the coupled C-S isotope cycles and their relationship to animal biodiversity radiation in other parts of the world remains to be confirmed,” the researcher added.

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One million species face threat of extinction, UN report warns Wed, 08 May 2019 12:04:47 +0000 At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since 16th century

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We are destroying nature in unprecedented rates, threatening a million of species in the planet, even threatening ourselves, says a recent report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

Over the past three years, 145 experts from 50 countries worked, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors, to issue the report which we briefly present its most important results here.

According to the report, the five direct drivers of change in nature are: changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution, and invasive alien species.

The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since the 1900s, according to report which added that more than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals, and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened.

The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.

Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average, these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by indigenous peoples and local communities.

More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.

The value of agricultural crop production has increased by about 300% since 1970, raw timber harvest has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tonnes of renewable and non-renewable resources are now extracted globally every year–having nearly doubled since 1980.

Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to $577bn in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes due to loss of coastal habitats and protection.

In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60% were maximally sustainably fished, with just 7% were harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished. Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992.

Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, 300-400m tonnes of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters, and fertilisers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’, totalling over 245,000 km2–a combined area greater than that of the United Kingdom.

Negative trends in nature will continue through to 2050 and beyond in all of the policy scenarios explored in the report, except those that include transformative change–due to the projected impacts of increasing land-use change, exploitation of organisms, and climate change, although with significant differences between regions.

“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said IPBES chair Robert Watson.

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend on is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide,” he added in an official IPBES statement.

“The report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” he said, adding that, “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored, and used sustainably–this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganisation across technological, economical, and social factors, including paradigms, goals, and values.”

“The member states of IPBES plenary have now acknowledged that, by its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with vested interests in the status quo, but also that such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good,” Watson said.

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Environment Minister stresses need for raising G7 commitment to conserve biodiversity Tue, 07 May 2019 14:47:16 +0000 Fouad held series of bilateral meetings with counterparts during G7 meeting in France

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The Minister of Environment, Yasmine Fouad, stressed on Tuesday the importance of raising the commitments of the major industrialised countries to support biodiversity.

The remarks came during her speech at the closing session of the meeting of Environment Ministers of the seven major industrialised countries (G7) in France.

Fouad said that the world needs more ambitious and realistic visions of biodiversity issues, stressing the need to work in the coming period with all international partners to increase global support to preserve life on Earth.

During the session, the Metz Charter on Biodiversity was announced to be adopted. The charter will reinforce political commitment to halt biodiversity loss and to secure a strong global deal for nature and people in 2020 at the next international biodiversity conference under the UN Biodiversity Convention.

The minister of environment gave examples of the recent efforts undertaken by Egypt, most notably the “good life” initiative launched by president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi which aims to provide a decent life for the neediest.

The environment is included in the initiative with an important focus: the participation of women in local communities in nature reserves, where women find jobs in the protected area and preserve their natural resources, which is at the heart of the process of justice and equality in preserving biological diversity, according to the statement of the ministry.

She has also highlighted the importance of dialogue and discussion with young people and listening to their ideas. “This is an important process initiated by Egypt through the World Youth Forum. It is a platform for exchanging experiences and successful experiences among the world youth in many environmental fields.”

Fouad stressed the importance of women, youth, and the neediest people in the development and economic transformation processes currently taking place in Egypt and therefore joined two initiatives launched during the conference of environment ministers of the major industrial countries. The first one is on gender and the environment, and the second is related to the integration of the informal sector of the solid waste management system.

She also held a series of bilateral meetings with the ministers of environment of the major industrial countries to discuss the bilateral cooperation between Egypt and these countries in the field of solid waste management, and the use of modern methods in the management and development of nature reserves.

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Minister of Environment heads to France for G7 meetings Sat, 04 May 2019 19:26:44 +0000 Fouad is current president of 14th Conference of Parties of Convention on Biological Diversity

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Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad headed on Saturday to France to take part in the meeting of seven industrial countries’ (G7) ministers of environment. The meeting comes as a preparation for the G7 summit which is set to address several political, environmental, and economic issues.

The summit will also focus on the impacts of climate change on the environment and biodiversity, and means of combating these impacts.

Fouad, the current president of 14th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP14) will give Egypt’s speech during the summit.

According to a statement from the ministry of environment, Fouad will underline Egypt’s plan to face environmental pressures on biological diversity, as well as helping African countries face the impacts of climate change.

The minister of environment will hold a number of bilateral meetings during her participation in the meeting to discuss ways of cooperation during the coming period in important issues related to environment and biodiversity.

She will also showcase Egypt’s successful experience in facing the effects of climate change and reducing its negative impacts on the environment.

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Global economy could lose $70tn due to climate change acceleration Thu, 25 Apr 2019 09:00:11 +0000 Certain amount of climate change impacts is inevitable even if we stay below 1.5C, says study’s lead author

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The Arctic region is warming twice as fast as the global average, manifested by a decrease in sea ice, snow and glaciers, and permafrost degradation relative to their benchmark average states for the period between 1979 and 2005.

These changes can accelerate global warming further through a variety of climatic feedbacks. Carbon from thawing permafrost released into the atmosphere results in the permafrost carbon feedback (PCF).

Decreasing sea ice and land snow covers increase solar absorption at high latitudes, causing the surface albedo feedback (SAF). Both feedbacks amplify the anthropogenic signal, according to a new paper in the Nature Communications journal.

The PCF and SAF represent three out of the 13 main tipping elements the Earth’s climate system identified in recent surveys. The risk of triggering the tipping elements is one of the arguments for adopting the ambitious 1.5C and 2C targets in the Paris Agreement.

Therefore, a rigorous quantitative assessment of the climate tipping elements under different scenarios is required to estimate their impacts and narrow down the uncertainties. Our study does this for the tipping elements/feedbacks associated with the loss of Arctic land permafrost, snow, and sea ice.

Carbon emissions

According to the Nature’s paper, carbon released into the atmosphere by the increasing loss of Arctic permafrost, combined with higher solar absorption by the Earth’s surface due to the melting of sea ice and land snow, will accelerate climate change–and have a multi-trillion dollar impact on the world economy.

Researchers explored simulations of complex, state-of-the-art, physical models to quantify the strength of the PCF, driven by the additional carbon released from thawing permafrost, and of the SAF, driven by the extra solar energy absorbed by the Earth’s surface as the white sea ice and land snow cover declines, exposing darker ocean and land.

The interdisciplinary research team hope their assessments will provide a better understanding of the socio-economic risks from climate change under different scenarios, and help guide policy-makers toward prudent decisions on emissions reduction targets.

Previous climate policy studies have tended to assume zero permafrost feedback and constant sea ice and land snow albedo feedback from the current climate, which we refer to as legacy values.  In this paper we show that both Arctic feedbacks are nonlinear (that is, they change in complex ways as climate warms), and estimate their impacts on the global climate and economy compared to their legacy values.

The permafrost feedback gets increasingly stronger in warmer climates, while the albedo feedback peaks for the warming between 1C and 2C (temperature range of the Paris Agreement targets), and then weakens as the summer and spring sea ice and land snow melt.

Combined, these two factors lead to increases in the cost of climate change by 4.0% ($25tn) under the 1.5C scenario, by 5.5% ($34tn) under the 2C scenario, and by 4.8% ($67tn) under mitigation levels consistent with the current national pledges.

Future worlds in which either the 1.5C or 2C targets are met by 2100 are characterised by considerably lower costs of climate change than the futures resulting from current pledges (around 3C in 2100) and business as usual trajectory (around 4C in 2100). Arctic feedbacks further amplify this result.

Considering the nonlinear Arctic feedback, it makes the 1.5C scenario marginally more economically attractive than the 2C scenario (although both are statistically equivalent, there are nearly equal probabilities that one is cheaper than the other).

“Our study therefore advocates pursuing the global warming targets well below 2C as the way of avoiding substantial ecological and socio-economic losses from climate change,” lead author Dmitry Yumashev, from the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business at Lancaster University told Daily News Egypt.

Low emission scenarios in the study include meeting the 1.5C and 2C Paris Agreement targets relative to pre-industrial conditions by 2100, while medium emission scenarios include mitigation levels consistent with current national pledges (NDCs). Under the NDCs, the world is set to warm by around 3C relative to pre-industrial times by 2100.

High emission scenarios, such as the current business as usual trajectory (BaU)-expected to lead to around 4C of warming by 2100 and cause by far the highest impact on ecosystems and societies-are also included. Under these, the strength of the PCF reaches its peak and does not increase further, while the continued weakening of the SAF gradually cancels the warming effect of the PCF.

Climate change impacts

Regarding the main impacts of climate change on the global economy, Yumashev said that climate change impacts global economy through increasing temperatures. While this could have limited benefits for colder countries, a hotter climate is set to have negative effects on warmer countries.

This is because warmer seasonal temperatures and stronger weather extremes reduce human productivity and agricultural output, and require more energy for air conditioning, while damaging infrastructure and so on. Rising temperatures and the associated growing extreme weather events are also expected to have negative impacts on ecosystems and human health.

In addition, coastal megacities and rural communities will be affected by rising sea levels. Finally, there could be highly uncertain extra impacts from social discontinuities (mass migrations, wars) and climate tipping elements other than the those associated with the Arctic.

Overall, the warmer the world gets, the bigger all these impacts are expected to be. The risk of catastrophic large-scale impacts also increases.

The team of researchers have been working on this study for over four years as part of the ICE-ARC project funded by the European Commission. Our co-authors from the United States received funding from the NSF and NASA.

Regarding the methods that the researchers used to reach to the results of the study, Yumashev noted that: “We used two state-of-the-art permafrost models (one from the US, another from the UK) and around 30 climate models (CMIP5). We analysed dozens of simulations of these models on supercomputers to develop statistical emulators of the Arctic feedbacks. These capture the nonlinear behaviour and allow us to quantify the known uncertainties.”

The emulators of Arctic feedbacks were incorporated in a new integrated assessment model PAGE-ICE, which combines simple representations of the climate and economy. PAGE-ICE is the latest version of the PAGE model that was used in the Stern Review of the economics of climate change in 2007. It includes multiple updates to climate science and economics in line with the latest literature, according to the researcher.

He added “We performed hundreds of thousands statistical simulations of PAGE-ICE to generate the results and quantify the associated uncertainties.”

All costs were estimated using simulations in specially developed integrated assessment model PAGE-ICE, which includes simple statistical representations of the Arctic feedbacks derived from complex models. It has multiple updates to climate science and economics, including up-to-date uncertainty estimates.


Answering our question about how can the international community avoid the negative impacts of climate change on the economy, Yumashev explained that this could be possible by pursuing ambitious mitigation efforts to cut carbon emissions and limit the global warming to well below 2C.

There are multiple actions that need to be taken to achieve this, requiring a lot more ambitious policies by governments and behavioural changes by businesses and individuals. “A certain amount of climate impact is inevitable even if we stay below 1.5C, and these will require adaptation. However, mitigation is the priority,” he said.  

Yumashev added further that the paper concludes with a discussion which outlines the areas that need further investigation. These include quantifying other tipping elements in the climate system, quantifying impacts of growing extreme weather events, reducing the uncertainty associated with long-term impacts of climate change on economic growth, and quantifying potential benefits from deep mitigation investments (green growth).

“Our team is working on multiple projects, including potential follow-up from this study. We have been developing collaboration with leading climate research centres such as the Potsdam Institute of Climate for Climate Impact Research (PIK). We hope these efforts would allow us to assess other climate tipping points in similar ways,” Yumashev said.

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Egypt faces water scarcity with renewable sources, virtual water Wed, 24 Apr 2019 18:29:43 +0000 Climate change increases water crisis in Middle East

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The Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation, Mohammed Abdel Aty, said on Tuesday that the provision of water is one of the biggest challenges which people and governments in the Arab region is facing.

He added that Egypt is particularly one of the most vulnerable countries for water crisis because of its location within the dry desert belt, where the rainfall rate of less than 100 millimetres per year, as well as with a high demand for water due to urban development, as well as industrial and population growth.

During his speech at the 12th version of the Arab Water Desalination Conference 2019 in Cairo, the minister added that in Egypt “we suffer from water shortage estimated at 90% of the water resources.”

He explained that these amounts of water are compensated by the reuse of 33% of the renewable resources and 55% of the virtual water in the form of crops that are imported in the form of commodities and food items.

Moreover, the minister pointed out to the increasing demand for water, as well as the impacts of climate change which threatens to exacerbate the water crisis, especially in areas that are suffering from water scarcity such as Egypt.

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Megalith tombs reveal secrets of European stone age Wed, 17 Apr 2019 13:00:43 +0000 Researchers found kin relationships among individuals buried in tombs in different countries

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An international research team have discovered kin relationships among stone-age individuals buried in megalithic tombs in Ireland and Sweden, according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America scientific journal.

The kin relations can be traced for more than 10 generations and suggest that megaliths were graves for kindred groups in stone age north-western Europe.

According to the paper, agriculture spread through migrants from the Fertile Crescent into Europe around 9,000 BCE, reaching north-western Europe by 4,000 BC. Starting around 4,500 BC, a new phenomenon of constructing megalithic monuments, particularly for funerary practices, emerged along the Atlantic façade.

These constructions have been enigmatic to the scientific community and the origin and social structure of the groups that erected them has remained largely unknown.

The international team sequenced and analysed the genomes from the human remains of 24 individuals from five megalithic burial sites, encompassing the widespread tradition of megalithic construction in northern and western Europe.

Mattias Jakobsson, professor of genetics and human evolution at Uppsala University, told Daily News Egypt that he and his team found that stone age people who were buried in megaliths in Ireland, in Scotland, and on the Baltic island of Gotland, were genetically related to other Neolithic groups which colonised the Atlantic coast.

“These groups trace their ancestry back to Anatolia and Anatolian farmers who lived some 10,000 years ago,” he said.

The researchers found that the Megaliths on the British Isles contained more males than females, that many of the individuals were closely related (both men and women), and that there were specific male lines (as seen for specific Y chromosome variants) in the graves.

This all tells us that the individuals buried in the megaliths were part of a stratified society, and that they were likely part of the ruling elite.

“We have been working on this particular genetic investigation for some four years, but some of the tombs were excavated by members of the team some 20 years ago,” Jakobsson noted.

Describing the moment of finding the kin relations, Jakobsson said: “We were quite surprised when we found these kin relations, including some close kin relations, like parent-offspring.”

He added that the team found them by using genetic comparisons of the DNA in the skeletons, and applying techniques common in forensics, but more advanced to be able to utilise the DNA from many thousand-year-old human remains.

“Since we are not investigating every single individual in the tombs, we were not really expecting to see close-kin relations. But we did find it, suggesting that these kin relations are common in the tombs,” said Jakobsson.

Furthermore, Jakobsson and his team extracted DNA from the skeletal remains using advanced molecular genetics strategies and specialised clean labs and procedures. They have thereafter used population-genomic approaches to determine relationships among individuals and their relations to other individuals living at the time.

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Drought increases air pollution through ozone gas Wed, 17 Apr 2019 12:30:19 +0000 Ozone layer acts as shield to protect living creatures on earth from harmful radiation

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In the 1950s, the ozone hole was first discovered. Since then, scientists have been studying the importance of ozone, which is largely found at the bottom of the stratosphere layer of the earth’s atmosphere, and is of a blue colour.

The ozone layer acts as a shield to protect living creatures on earth from the harmful ultraviolet radiation, and the negative effects of the erosion of this important layer.

But ozone gas is a concern for researchers who believe it has negative effects on human health and plants.

Between 2011 and 2015, California was hit by the worst drought in its history: temperatures sharply rose and rainfall declined.

Researchers at a number of United States universities believe that drought conditions have had negative effects on air quality, especially since air contains ozone gas.

In a study recently published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, researchers studied the effects of drought on increased air pollution in ozone gas.

In order to better understand this process, researchers analysed drought and air quality data in two cities contaminated with ozone gas before, during and after the drought in California.

Ozone gas is a transparent gas of at least 1% of the atmosphere, a toxic gas. The ozone gas in the earth’s atmosphere consists of emissions of polluting sources, such as carbon dioxide emitted from vehicle exhaust, volatile organic compounds, solvent use, and methane resulting from agriculture.

Over two years, Sally E. Pusede, an assistant professor at the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia, and her team, investigated the effects of the recent major drought in California on ozone air pollution.

They found that severe drought conditions reduced emissions of the ozone-forming organic gases emitted by plants, especially an important biogenic molecule known as isoprene.

Concurrently, they observed a change in ozone-producing chemistry consistent with a significant change in the atmospheric concentrations of ozone-forming organic gases.

Pusede told Daily News Egypt that the observed change in ozone-producing chemistry has two major consequences. The first result is that ozone production itself decreased.

“However, because ozone concentrations remained relatively constant through the drought period, we inferred a decrease in the loss of ozone from the atmosphere caused by uptake by plants, which implies that drought also impacted the ozone sink. Second, ozone pollution will be less responsive to regulations that reduce ozone through controls on nitrogen oxides (a common strategy to lower ozone levels),” she clarified.

There is a lot of interest in understanding how climate change will affect ozone air pollution. One component of this, is understanding how drought conditions impact ozone air pollution, as climate change is expected to increase the drought frequency and severity in many places around the world.

According to Pusede, the drought’s effects on ozone are difficult to study because drought can influence ozone in multiple ways, including impacting atmospheric ozone formation and ozone loss.

“We have been able to show how drought impacts the emissions of biogenic ozone-forming organic gases and the chemistry that produces ozone. This is an important step as this understanding is needed to design effective ozone regulations in a changing climate,” the researcher added.

The researchers analysed data they collected from earth and satellite data in the cities of Fresno and Bakersfield, two ozone-polluting cities after California.

Their finding was that isoprene concentrations did not substantially change during early droughts, but decreased by more than 50% during the most severe droughts. The effects of dehydration on isoprene were also associated with atmospheric temperature.

Drought caused a 20% reduction in ozone production during severe drought. This decline was offset by a similar decline in plant uptake of ozone in general, during the severe drought period.

Regarding the techniques that researchers used to reach to the results of the study, Pusede said: “We have studied 16 years of atmospheric measurements in California and satellite observations of leaf area. We have designed an analysis that allows us to test separate aspects of the drought’s influence on high ozone concentration, especially emissions of natural ozone precursors and ozone formation chemistry.”

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Meteorite impacts release tonnes of water from the moon annually Mon, 15 Apr 2019 18:16:22 +0000 Authors determine that uppermost 8cm of lunar soil is dehydrated

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Water is being constantly released into the tenuous atmosphere of the moon by meteoroid bombardments onto the lunar surface. According to a recent study published in the Nature Geoscience, a very small amount of water is pervasive in lunar subsoil, and preserved from early on in the moon’s history.

Researchers from Maryland University in the United States have discovered that the released water is sourced from a layer of ‘regolith’ that is buried a few centimetres below the surface. We also concluded that this buried water must have been delivered a long time ago or was present during the lunar formation.

“This study is important because it helps complete our view of the global water cycle on the moon: its origin, how it is transported, recycled, or permanently lost. Finally, our findings establish how much water is available in the soil for in-situ resource utilisation by future manned or robotic lunar expeditions,” said Mehdi Benna, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the first author of the study.

Benna told Daily News Egypt that the study relied on observations collected by the Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) aboard NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE).

The LADEE orbited the moon from October 2013 to April 2014. It also combines a thorough analysis of the data and a high-fidelity numerical modelling of the behaviour of water in the lunar exosphere.

“We started working of this LADEE dataset four years ago. It took us a while to validate and understand what those observations were telling us about the water dynamics in the lunar tenuous atmosphere,” he added.

The authors find that most of these detections coincide with 29 meteor streams during the study period. By studying the amount of water released by meteor streams of different sizes, the authors determine that the uppermost 8cm of lunar soil is dehydrated.

Below this, they calculate that water is uniformly present at concentrations up to about 0.05%. They estimate that meteorite impacting the moon cause the loss of as much as 200 tonnes of water per year.

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We have now seen the unseeable: astronomers release first ever image of black hole Wed, 10 Apr 2019 14:17:01 +0000 Black hole’s mass is 6.5bn folds than that of Sun

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Scientists at the National Science Foundation (NSF) released on Wednesday for the first time, the first ever image of a black hole, too far from our galaxy.

The great breakthrough image was captured after years of cooperation and with a team of more than 200 astronomers running the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) which is a globe-girdling network of eight radio telescopes.

The black hole has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun.

The captured image shows a halo of dust and gas, tracing the outline of a colossal black hole, at the heart of a galaxy called the “Messier 87 galaxy” which lies 55m light years from earth (500m trillion kms away), according to scientists at the press conference at the NSF.

Details about the breakthrough have been also published on Wednesday in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“This is a huge day in astrophysics,” said NSF Director, France Córdova. She added, “We are seeing the unseeable. Black holes have sparked imaginations for decades. They have exotic properties and are mysterious to us. Yet with more observations like this one, they are yielding their secrets. This is why the NSF exists.”

She further added, “We enable scientists and engineers to illuminate the unknown, to reveal the subtle and complex majesty of our universe.”

The EHT Project Director, Sheperd S. Doeleman of the Harvard College Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, said, “We have taken the first picture of a black hole.”

“This is an extraordinary scientific feat accomplished by a team of more than 200 researchers,” Doeleman added.

Over the past two decades, the NSF has directly funded more than $28m in EHT research, which is considered the largest commitment of resources for the project.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the black hole is a place in space where gravity pulls so much that even light cannot get out. The gravity is so strong because matter has been squeezed into a tiny space. This can happen when a star is dying. We are not able to see the black holes because no light can get out of it.

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Eutrophication, dark side of ‘greenness’ Wed, 10 Apr 2019 08:00:30 +0000 Lake greenness increases methane emissions by 30% to 90% over next 100 years

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Scientists and environmentalists are trying to transform our climate-threatened planet into a green planet by conserving forests and natural habitats as well as increasing afforestation, but green may not always be a good indicator, according to a recent study by researchers from the Protecting Agency Environment in the United States.

The study, published recently in the Nature Communications journal, concluded that the greening of lakes known as ‘eutrophication,’ would cause methane emissions to increase in the atmosphere by 30% to 90% over the next 100 years.

Methane is one of the greenhouse gases that are 34 times more effective than carbon dioxide (CO2). It is produced after algae die and lakes get covered with green spots rich in toxins which degrade in drinking water and contaminate it.

Greenhouse gases include a number of chemical compounds, most notably CO2, methane, and ozone, and increases in the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere pose serious risks, most notably climate change, and global warming.

Researchers estimate that two-thirds of the amount of methane emitted daily in the summer months of Lake Erie-one of the Great Lakes of North America-is the result of algal bloom.

What does eutrophication mean?

The word ‘eutrophic’ stems from (originally) the Greek language, meaning ‘well-nourished’. So eutrophication is essentially a high level of nutrients (for instance, phosphorus and nitrogen) in lakes, which typically results in a high biomass and can lead to toxic algae blooms. Eutrophic lakes are typically greener/darker in colour. These colour differences have an impact on light penetration and essentially the functioning of the lake, in terms of which species dominate and where they hang out in the water column.

Also, when these typically big algae blooms die they accumulate in the lake bottom sediments where microbes degrade this carbon input. This degradation by microbes often consumes oxygen leading to anoxic (oxygen-free) bottom waters. This has obvious consequences for the species in the lake which require oxygen. This oxygen-free environment in the sediments and water column are also ideal locations for methane production.

Co-author of the study, Tonya DelSontro of the Department F-A Forel for environmental and aquatic science, University of Geneva, Switzerland, told Daily News Egypt that this study came about following the publication of a study last year, where she and the same the authors of the current study collected literature data of all greenhouse gas emissions from lakes and reservoirs (CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide) and looked for environmental variables which could be related to these gas emissions.

The team back then had found that ‘chlorophyll a’ (the green pigment in algae and other plankton) correlated strongly and positively with methane emissions. This delivered a clear message to the team that there is likely a link between the amount of algae (and hence the health of the lake) and methane emissions.

They also know that there is a link between the amount of nutrients in a lake and the amount of algae such that when these levels become too high, it is the process of eutrophication, and is an indicator of the lake’s poor health.

Climatic feedback

Authors of the paper believe that their findings are important because it provides-for the first time-a prediction for the climatic feedback of freshwaters due to global environmental change. The increase in nutrients in lakes ultimately cause the eutrophication is anthropogenic, and a result of increasing population (for instance, more agricultural and urban waste runoff).

But this increase will be exacerbated by climate change as well–for instance; more precipitation leading to more runoff, increases in temperature which causes more microbial degradation producing methane, and larger lake surface area. These global environmental changes will ultimately induce more methane emissions from freshwaters, which is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2, and thus be a positive feedback on climate change.

The authors used a statistical model they created in 2018 which correlates methane emissions with lake size and chlorophyll–which is a measure of high algal biomass stimulated by phosphorus. By using the global distribution of lake size and total lake area, the climatic heating of lakes, future phosphorus concentrations and storm-driven nutrient runoff, they were able to estimate future lake methane emissions, which the authors say has not been previously conducted.

The optimistic outcome is that improved nutrient management practices could reverse the greening or eutrophication of lakes and thereby reduce methane emissions. Additionally, local action to improve water quality could have important global consequences, according to the paper.

In terms of biodiversity, DelSontro told DNE that the paper does not approach that subject but there is a lot of work going on now about how climate change affects planktonic species in lakes. Also, she is working at the University of Geneva on how these species’ changes affect the mixing and light penetration in a lake, which will have consequences for how lakes react to climate change too.

Future predictions  

DelSontro noted that the objective of this second publication was to make some predictions regarding future eutrophication of freshwaters on a global scale, and the potential increase in methane emissions because of that eutrophication.

The researchers used several pieces of literature regarding potential future increases in fertiliser production and nutrient runoff, as well as increases in water temperature and lake area due to climate change, and found that eutrophication could increase almost fivefold in the future.

“We used a more conservative value of threefold as our maximum, and our model from the previous publication to estimate that lake and reservoir methane emissions could double by 2100 if this eutrophication increase were to happen,” said DelSontro.

The study showed that eutrophication in lakes will increase over the next 100 years because of three factors. First, the population is expected to increase by 50% in 2100, resulting in an increase in wastewater and fertilisers used in agriculture.

More fertilisers mean that there are more nutrients in the water and so water borne organisms increasingly grow, which reduces the amount of oxygen in the water, and promotes the production of methane. Eutrophication is sometimes thought of as ‘choking’ a lake, because of the oxygen loss.

The second factor is the increased occurrence of storms and rain and the resulting water runoff that transfers nitrogen from the soil to inland lakes. Thirdly, with the steady rise in temperature, the temperature of the lakes and the warm water will be favourable for the growth of algae.

Researchers predict that eutrophication in lakes will be increased by between 25% and 200% by 2050, according to current population growth rates and climate change.

Reducing impacts

According to the paper eutrophication is bad for many reasons; the biggest reason is the potential for toxic cyanobacteria (algae) blooms. These are toxic to animals and humans, thus creating poor recreational and drinking water quality of freshwaters. The green colour induces changes in the lake in terms of species, functioning, and physics, which we do not yet fully understand, but it has an impact on how we use our freshwaters.

Then the degradation of these algae blooms leads to oxygen consumption in lake bottoms, which causes problems for fish and other aquatic species. The researchers found that green lakes will likely emit more methane-a potent greenhouse gas-and promote further climate change.

In order to reduce the occurrence of eutrophication as individuals, we can be careful with or simply not use fertilisers in our gardens. We can also reduce the amount of water we use, which will reduce sewage runoff. We can also decide to buy only agricultural products which are fertiliser-free, according to the researcher.

She further explained that because much of the runoff will increase because of climate change, anything we do which helps reduce climate change (for instance, use less fossil fuels) will help reduce eutrophication.

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Four-legged ancient whale’s remains discovered in Peru Tue, 09 Apr 2019 08:30:12 +0000 Discovery provides new insight into whales' evolution

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Scientists recently discovered remains of an ancient four-legged whale found in 42.6-million-year-old marine sediments along the coast of Peru. According to the study which has appeared in the journal Current Biology, provided a new insight into whales’ evolution and their dispersal to other parts of the world.

Olivier Lambert of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences told Daily News Egypt that he and his team have discovered a new quadrupedal whale skeleton from the middle Eocene period (nearly 43 million years ago) at the deposits of the Pisco Basin, southern coast of Peru.

He noted that this is the first indisputable four-limbed whale record for the whole pacific and southern hemisphere, probably the oldest for the Americas, and the most complete skeleton of such a whale outside India and Pakistan. This new record demonstrates that cetaceans reached a nearly circum-tropical distribution early in their evolutionary history, and that they reached the New World while retaining the ability to move on land (i.e. being amphibious).

The geological age of the new whale, its place of discovery, and its affinities with more fragmentarily known quadrupedal whale remains from the west coast of Africa also support the hypothesis that amphibious whales crossed the South Atlantic to reach South America, before a northward dispersal along the east coast of the US, according to Lambert.

Responding to our inquiry about how did the team know exactly the features of the old whale, Lambert explained that some features of the discovered remains are directly based on the observation of the skeleton, for example the tight connection between the hip and sacrum, limb proportions, and the presence of small hooves on toes and fingers.

“Other features rely on comparisons with other semi-aquatic mammals, for example the feet and hands being webbed and the significant use of the tail for swimming. Finally, others are much more hypothetical, for example the presence of a tail fluke, as the last tail vertebrae were not recovered,” he said.

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Total of 113 million people faced food insecurity because of climate change, conflicts Wed, 03 Apr 2019 18:08:57 +0000 2018 witnessed world’s most severe food crisis

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More than 113 million people in 53 countries experienced acute food insecurity in 2018, compared to 124 million in 2017 because of conflict and insecurity, climate shocks and economic turbulence, according to a recent report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

The FAO issued the report on Tuesday jointly with the European Union, and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

The report pointed out that nearly two-thirds of those facing acute hunger are in just eight countries. The worst food crises in 2018 were, in order of severity, in Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, the Syrian Arab Republic, the Sudan, South Sudan and northern Nigeria.

These eight countries accounted for two thirds of the total number of people facing acute food insecurity – amounting to nearly 72 million people. In 17 countries, acute hunger either remained the same or increased.

Climate and natural disasters pushed another 29 million people into acute food insecurity in 2018. And 13 countries – including North Korea and Venezuela – are not in the analysis because of data gaps.

According to the report, the figure of 113 million people facing food crises is down slightly from the 124 million figure in 2017. However, the number of people in the world facing food crises has remained well over 100 million in the last three years, and the number of countries affected has risen.

Despite the slight decrease, over the past three years, the report has consistently shown that, year on year, more than 100 million people (2016, 2017 and 2018) have faced periods of acute hunger.

Moreover, an additional 143 million people in another 42 countries are just one step away from facing acute hunger.

High levels of acute and chronic malnutrition in children living in emergency conditions remained of grave concern. The immediate drivers of undernutrition include poor dietary intake and disease. Mothers and caregivers often face challenges in providing children with the key micronutrients they need at critical growth periods in food crises, the report illustrated.

“Food insecurity remains a global challenge. That’s why, from 2014 to 2020, the EU will have provided nearly €9bn for initiatives on food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture in over 60 countries,” said the European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica.

She added that today’s Global Report highlights the need for a strengthened cooperation between humanitarian, development and peace actors to reverse and prevent food crises, noting that a stronger Global Network can help deliver change on the ground for the people who really need it.   

Noteworthy, the main report mentioned that there are main four drivers of the food crisis.

Conflicts and insecurity

Conflict and insecurity remain the primary drivers of food security crises. The report warns that conflicts in some countries and local insecurity and intercommunal violence in others will continue to disrupt agricultural production and markets and deprive households of their livelihood assets, accentuating their use of negative coping strategies and deepening their vulnerability to shocks.

The report estimates that conflicts and insecurity will contribute toward increasing displacement, internally or towards neighbouring countries, or will ensure people remain displaced for longer periods, which will aggravate -in most cases- the food insecurity of those fleeing as well as the host communities.

Climate shocks

The FAO and its partners predict that weather shocks and extreme climate events will have a severe impact on agricultural and livestock production in several regions, including those already confronting food crises.

For instance, in the Southern Africa region, dry weather has already reduced prospects for the 2019 agricultural output, while the massive destruction of livestock, livelihoods and planted crops following tropical Cyclone Idai in March 2019 will further exacerbate food insecurity in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, dry weather associated with El Niño conditions are expected to affect agricultural production and food prices in Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.

Economic shocks

The report predicts that in 2019, local insecurity, or political volatility as a result of conflicts, will continue to undermine the food security status of vulnerable households in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, South Sudan, the Sudan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

The food security status of the poorest households reveals that it is likely to be the most affected by rising prices of food, fuel, medicines and other essential items, and lack of work opportunities that also weaken the ability of farmers and smallholders to invest in inputs needed to increase crop yields or to build their resilience to shocks.

Disease Outbreaks

Another key cause of food insecurity in the world is the disease outbreaks. The report revealed that in Yemen, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lake Chad Basin and Cameroon’s Anglophone regions protracted or increased conflict is expected to further hinder access to health and nutrition services.

Cholera and measles outbreaks are expected to persist in 2019 in many conflict and displacement affected countries and to potentially rise in settings with poor sanitation infrastructure, contamination of drinking water and lack of health services.

For his part, Christos Stylianides, the EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, said that “food crises continue to be a global challenge, which requires our joint efforts. The EU continues to step up its humanitarian efforts.”

He added that over the last three years, the EU allocated the biggest humanitarian food and nutrition assistance budget ever, with nearly €2bn overall, adding that “food crises are becoming more acute and complex and we need innovative ways to tackle and prevent them from happening. The Global Report provides a basis to formulate the next steps of the Global Network by improving our coordination mechanisms.”

“It is clear from the Global Report that despite a slight drop in 2018 in the number of people experiencing acute food insecurity – the most extreme form of hunger – the figure is still far too high,” said the FAO Director-General, José Graziano da Silva.

Graziano da Silva added that “we must act at scale across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus to build the resilience of affected and vulnerable populations. To save lives, we also have to save livelihoods,”  

David Beasley, the WFP’s executive director, said that “to truly end hunger, we must attack the root causes: conflict, instability, the impact of climate shocks. Boys and girls need to be well-nourished and educated, women need to be truly empowered, rural infrastructure must be strengthened in order to meet that Zero Hunger goal.”

He believes that programmes that make a community resilient and more stable will also reduce the number of hungry people. “One thing we need world leaders to do as well: step up to the plate and help solve these conflicts, right now.”

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Climate change increases exposure to disease-carrying mosquitoes Wed, 03 Apr 2019 11:00:28 +0000 One billion people will be threatened by tropical diseases like dengue fever

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More than a billion people may be exposed to the danger of being bitten by the two most common disease-carrying mosquitoes – Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus – by the end of this century because of global warming. These finds came from a recent study which addressed the monthly changes in temperature and its relationship to tropical diseases, such as dengue fever, chikungunya, and Zika across the globe.

In a study published last week in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, the research team, led by Sadie J. Ryan, a professor of medical geography at the University of Florida, studied the possible outcomes of the adaptation of the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus with temperature changes throughout the ages.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), mosquitoes are one of the deadliest animals in the world. Their ability to carry and spread disease to humans causes millions of deaths every year. In 2015 malaria alone caused 438,000 deaths.

The worldwide incidence of dengue has risen 30-fold in the past 30 years, and more countries are reporting their first outbreaks of the disease. Zika, dengue, chikungunya, and yellow fever are all transmitted to humans by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the WHO said.

Potential exposure risk

This study is part of a long-term project with all the co-authors, in which they are looking at multiple vector borne diseases and their responses to climate in this context of nonlinear responses and eco-physiological modelling.

The mapping and risk estimation component has become highlighted over the past couple of years, as the world’s attention to climate-health connections in climate change is being raised, and the spectre of novel vector borne disease outbreaks, such as Zika, drew attention to the globalised nature of these issues.

Ryan of the University of Florida explained the conclusions of the study and why it is very important, saying that in this study, she and her colleagues are projecting the potential human risk of exposure to transmission conditions for diseases spread by the aforementioned two mosquito vectors.

“We are just beginning to discover and understand, the Aedes aegypti or yellow fever mosquito, which transmits dengue, yellow fever, chikungunya, Zika virus, and possibly a number of emerging viral diseases, and the Aedes albopictus mosquito, also known as the Asian Tiger Mosquito (in the USA), which also serves as a vector for arboviral diseases. We find that nearly half a billion people will be newly at risk of potential transmission by 2050, and nearly a billion by 2080, however, where those people will be is also important to know.” she told Daily News Egypt.

The researcher further explained that having a tool that can give us geospatial information on where and when this risk will move to, both newly, and by changing seasonality, under climate change futures, gives us a means to plan for interventions, identify potentially vulnerable populations, and set up surveillance ahead of time.

Sweet spot

Notably, by projecting this risk using multiple climate models of future potential change outcomes – both emissions pathways, and global circulation models proposed by different climatological centres – the researchers can also understand the range of potential outcomes, and assess what may occur with different levels of mitigation, or lack thereof.

Global health security is one of the biggest issues which humanity is facing with climate change, and mosquito-borne disease is just one facet of the climate-driven vulnerabilities we need to anticipate. Such geospatial model tools provide us with the capacity to discuss and prepare for these threats, according to the paper.

Regarding the methods that the researchers have used to reach these results, and how do we know that climate change is the main cause for mosquito-borne virus transmission, Ryan said that the response of mosquito-borne disease to temperature is nonlinear – this is rooted in the principles of ecophysiology and thermal biology.

“As temperatures increase, up to a certain point, so does the pace of biting, growing, reproducing, and pathogen replication, however there is an optimal temperature, beyond which, transmission declines quite rapidly,” Ryan noted. This means that there is essentially a ‘sweet spot’ of temperature in which mosquito-borne diseases transmit best, and therefore it is this sweet spot which will move across the landscape as temperature does.

Therefore, under projections of climate change, in terms of global warming, the study estimates that will see increases in the risk – both in intensity, and in season length – but beyond certain boundaries of temperature, this will decrease. In some places, it will become warm enough to support transmission – these are the newly exposed areas. In other places, it may become too warm for transmission, and we will see declining risk.

Mapping exposure risk

For the more heat-tolerant Aedes aegypti transmission, warming scenarios favour more transmission over more areas, meaning novel exposure to risk in places, like Canada and across northern Europe. For the more temperate Aedes albopictus transmission, as we follow a worst-case warming scenario, out to 50-60 years from now, we will start to see declining suitability of some parts of the world, as they become too hot to sustain transmission.

“The methods we used were to empirically parameterise life-history specific temperature-dependent models of arboviral transmission in these two key mosquito vectors, and then project these onto global gridded datasets of monthly temperature in scenarios of current and future climate. We then intersected this with human population density maps for the globe to understand how many people are at how much risk and where, both now and in the future,” the researcher told DNE.

Regarding the most affected regions, Rayan said that in the worst-case (business as usual) scenario, by 2080, Western and Eastern Europe will have the highest (and second highest) population numbers exposed for the first time to suitable transmission climates (1 or more months).

She added that depending on the mosquito species, we see sub-Saharan East Africa and Central Europe being the 3rd and 4th ranked for regional increases. The poleward expansion of suitable climates means that places we currently do not associate with tropical diseases will become the sentinels for surveillance for novel outbreaks.

According to Rayan, the research team does not know if climate change is the key cause for mosquito-borne disease transmission, instead they know that it permits areas to become suitable or change in seasonal suitability for disease transmission. Humans are very good at moving both the mosquitoes and their pathogens around the globe, meaning that introduction of either or both into suitable environments is something that occurs, she added.

“Therefore, it is important that we can understand what the current suitable areas for this type of introduction and establishment, and how that will change in the future with climate change. This allows us to anticipate potential areas and populations at risk and plan for those climate-induced vulnerabilities,” Rayan said.  

Future work

Rayan added that she and her team are currently continuing work on this topic, looking at additional Aedes-transmitted diseases as well as other vector-borne disease systems, and how they will respond to climate change. Understand and disentangling the temperature dependent patterns for additional vector-pathogen pairings will give us a broader view of how risks will shift and change over the coming decades.

“I think a key point that goes beyond this study is that climate change is one of the biggest threats to global public health. Arboviral disease is simply one type of vulnerability that people will face under a changing climate, and having the type of tools, such as geospatial model projection and population risk estimates – which enables policy makers to anticipate the potential threats and intersect these with other threats like other climate-driven diseases, climate-induced human migration patterns, and water and food scarcity – is important, perhaps essential, as we face enormous decisions about climate action and mitigation,” Rayan concluded.   

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